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Thanksgiving in Spain?

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

It was a Thursday in late November of 1989. I was sitting at my table in my tiny flat in the San Andreu neighborhood of Barcelona, having dinner. It was lentil soup with bread and butter, followed by a bowl of chocolate pudding I had figured out how to make from a popular chocolate milk powder sold in Spain.

Recently arrived

I had not been in Spain, this time around, for all that long. I had arrived on La Mercè, a local holiday in late September. An American friend and a Spanish friend of his took me out to the streets to participate in the crowds and celebrations.

One of the activities they didn’t tell me about was that groups of people would stand under balconies and shout “¡agua! ¡agua!” and someone on the balcony would dump a bucket of water on them. I got wet. I still don’t know what that had to do with the Virgin Mary saving Barcelona from a plague of locusts in the late 17th century. I simply accepted it as my “baptism” into Spanish culture. I’ve been living here since.

A voice from America

So, while I’m finishing up my soup and pulling the bowl of pudding in front of me, I am listening to the radio, specifically Voice of America. My Spanish wasn’t good enough yet to enjoy Spanish radio programming, and two months into my move to Spain, I was admittedly feeling a little lonely, and Voice of America helped mitigate that feeling.

The news came on. The anchor mentioned that President Bush (H.W.) had said such-and-such in his first Thanksgiving address. Thanksgiving? Jeez, I was so disconnected that I had overlooked that holiday altogether. I had worked that very afternoon, the day was just another day for me. That feeling of loneliness suddenly became a self-pity-party. Why hadn’t I bothered to make myself at least a symbolic feast for the holiday?

How did they begin?

Yet, I thought about what I had been taught about that holiday, its origin story, how Native Americans had become friends with the European Settlers and thanks to the cooperation between the two groups, had had a glorious harvest, celebrated through a feast. Images of construction paper pilgrim hats and turkeys flashed through my mind.

I thought about just how American that holiday was and how different it was from that quasi-religious celebration I had landed into in Barcelona in September.

Years went by without celebrating Thanksgiving. I was single, had a lot of friends, but couldn’t seem to convince any of them to come over on that randomly-chosen Thursday in late November. It didn’t make any sense to them, it seemed, if there wasn’t a virgin or a saint attached to it. It wasn’t in the calendar of moveable feasts, so it wasn’t really legitimate.

Sharing the thanks

Then I stopped being single and my mate and I have celebrated Thanksgiving together every year (on the Sunday following that holiday, it’s still not a holiday in Spain, have to go to work!). We generally repeat the same, traditional menu, I stuff a large chicken (turkey is not sold whole here!) or make a dish of stuffed turkey breasts, there are sweet potatoes roasted with brown sugar, mashed potatoes, succotash.

Last year, my brother, who lives in Scotland, got his hands on some cranberry sauce from a local military commissary and sent me a couple of jars. I’ve got one left over for this year’s feast. There is pumpkin pie (actually squash pie, no pumpkins readily available here either!) with whipped cream, and since my mate doesn’t really care for it there’s always an extra slice for me!

Black Friday? Really?

What kind of makes me sad is the part of Thanksgiving that did make it to Spain: Black Friday. For the past decade, more or less, Spanish commerce has celebrated “Black Friday Sales”. They happily skip over the Thanksgiving celebration and jump right into pre-Christmas consumption. There is news that some Spanish are beginning to adopt the idea of celebrating a day of thanks, but what gets the airtime on the television is Black Friday.

So, yeah, this year we’ll be celebrating our own, private day of Thanks. I’ll be thankful for keeping safe from microbes and virus for the last two years. I’ll also be thankful for returning to my vocation of teaching language, something I had set aside eleven years ago.

Hope you adopt our Thanksgiving. Even if you don’t have turkey and dressing, just sitting down with friends and family and saying “thank you” is enough to make your dinner Thanksgiving.

Oh, I forgot, I am also thankful that there is no Thanksgiving professional football game on television here!


revel arroway

linguistic manager


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