My Ukrainian Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is right up at the top of my list of favorite holidays, along with Christmas.  I love spending a few days with my aunt, uncle, and cousins eating fantastic food until I’m uncomfortable, relaxing in front of the fire with Gus the dog laying on top of me, taking walks  in cool air heavy with the smell of leaves and wood burning, and standing on the cusp of the Christmas season.

So, when I found out I would truly be heading overseas this year, one of the first things my cousin said was, “But what about Thanksgiving?”  I had to pause and think for a moment before deciding this adventure was worth missing it.  And thankfully (pun intended), I was not terribly homesick.  I have found that it is often better to do things totally differently rather than attempt to replicate what you don’t have, so I had settled myself in for a totally different experience this year.

Surprisingly, I had more of a Thanksgiving Day than expected!  For one thing, I had two different opportunities during the day to teach about Thanksgiving: first during my one hour Conversation Club at the University, and then with teenagers in the micro-scholarship program I work with at the public library.  At the Conversation Club, I explained the history and current traditions of the holiday, and then showed them pictures of past Thanksgivings.  I knew that all those years of taking pictures of the buffet spread and of my plate of food would come in handy someday!  With the teens, I created some dialogues that they had to learn and act out: one with Mr. and Mrs. Pilgrim, Squanto, and Samoset, and the other with a modern-day family getting the food ready in the kitchen.

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Practicing the dialogue
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Christina getting into her part
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The all-boys group on stage



Thanksgiving Dialogues

Secondly, a number of people remembered that it was Thanksgiving, and treated me very nicely: the two Ludmilas who run the Foreign Languages Department gave me some chocolate and a note telling me not to be lonely, and Tamila, the head of the English Grammar and Phonetics Department (where I work) presented me with a box of truffles. Gee!  I said to another teacher who was looking on, “Don’t you wish it were YOUR Thanksgiving?”  She did.

Finally, and most incredibly, I actually went to a Thanksgiving Dinner! The pastor of my church, Pavel, and his wife, Oksana, have hosted a Thanskgiving dinner for the members of their church for the past seven years or so, ever since Oksana spent some time in the U.S. and experienced one for herself.  Lest you think we had the traditional spread, though, let me remind you that Thanksgiving foods are native North American foods, and not easily found abroad.  Here I can find no sweet potatoes (which is terribly unfortunate since I love sweet potatoes at this time of year, and since my cousin Sonja sent me a package of mini-marshmallows to bake on top of them), no cranberries (although I have a running dispute with some folks here as to whether the little red berries I used in order to cook up some sauce are actually cranberries, since everyone here translates them as cranberries)…

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…no canned pumpkin (and here’s a case where fresh is not better), and turkey…well, let me tell you about the turkey.

Oksana said that she would be making chicken since it is easier to get here and much less expensive.  I told her this past week that I would be willing to foot the bill for the turkey if that would be good; you know, I thought maybe people would enjoy having turkey for a change.  On Tuesday, I got a few messages from her, saying that she needed to know if Lida (a woman at church) should buy a 7-kilo turkey for 600 hryvnias (about $30).  Woah!  I called her back and asked how many people were coming, and what other food there would be…did we really need 7 kilos? It seemed to me like too much, especially since Pavel would be making his traditional chili.  “Well, there isn’t much of an option,” Oksana explained. “We found a farmer who can kill one of his turkeys for us, and that’s how big it is.”  Oh.

“Gee, I don’t know that we really need to do that.  Do you think people really want it that much?”

“Well, no, it would be for your and Jack’s sake (another American I invited, along with his Ukrainian wife), since you want it.”

“No, I’m fine without it!  I was just offering in case it would be nice for everyone.  For goodness’ sake, let’s have chicken.”

“Oh, well, I’m glad we cleared that up!”

Glad indeed, but not as glad as the turkey.  I feel a bit like the President this year, giving a turkey a pardon.

The dinner gathering was a fine occasion, with everyone sharing what they were thankful for, enjoying the food, and chatting.

2015-11-26 19.19.52Here is Pavel, making his chili.  It came up a few times that one year he had made it far too hot and people could hardly eat it, so I was a bit wary.  After all, I can’t handle a great deal of heat.  When Natasha made a beeline for the juice after eating some, I decided I should probably not have any. I asked Oksana how it was, and she admitted that it was fairly hot.  “Well, just have a bite of mine,” she said.  I took a bite and waited for the heat to kick in.  And waited.

“Um, that’s not hot at all,” I said.

“Not hot at all?  Not hot at ALL? My throat is burning!”

Could it be that I am in a land where the food is so mild that I am actually considered able to handle “heat”?  Wonders never cease here.

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Back row, l-r: Julia (Jack’s wife), Lida & Vasili, Natasha, Igor & Natasha, Olga, Lida (Pavel’s mom).  Front row: Jack (from Missouri), Timmy (Oksana & Pavel’s), Stas (Igor & Natasha’s), Pavel, Oksana, Kiril (Igor & Natasha’s), and Sasha with baby Pasha.  In front are “pumpkins.”

When Lida first met me, one of the first things she asked me was if I could make an American pie.  She seemed quite disappointed when I said I wasn’t too good at them.  So, when she found out that Jack had made and brought a cherry pie, you should have seen how excited she was.  She made as many elated sounds eating that piece of pie as I do eating my favorite foods!  It seems to be one of her dreams, to have American pie.

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The Dessert Spread: Jack’s cherry pie, a layered torte, zefir (like meringue), chocolate-cream-cake dessert, pumpkin cake, and pumpkin with raisins and walnuts.
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With me!



7 thoughts on “My Ukrainian Thanksgiving

  1. What a marvelous group of friends you’ve made. It is such a joy to read about each new adventure that you encounter. I’m praying that you will continue to greet each new week with yet another new friend and another new experience to savor. I love reading your stories; thank you for sharing your life with us. In comparison, my Thanksgiving of hiking in the hills and then dining on chicken breast sounds so very very tame! Hugs and prayers for you and all of your new friends.


  2. Who knows, Jeannie, but that Turkey might one day turn out to save a child’s life, or stop up a leaking dam, or warn the farmer of an encroaching robber! And in so doing might become a national hero. And in so doing might create a new Thanksgiving tradition in which the turkey is the hero as the pilgrims and Indians are in our story!


  3. Jeannie, this is wonderful.

    I e-mailed you the plagiarism document to your dvc e-mail. Did you get it? If not, where should I send it? Glenda


    1. Thank you, Glenda! I just checked my DVC mail and did indeed get it, and I sent you a response there. I’m glad you’ve read some of my blog and like it! It’s a treat to have people “join me” here.


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