Why Thanksgiving Will Always Remind Me Of Armenia
The Thanksgiving of New Beginnings
It was two years ago, almost to the day, the night before Thanksgiving, my family touched down in Armenia to begin our first tour overseas.
Armenia. I still ask myself how the heck did I end up here.
I’ll never forget the smell when I walked out of Zvartnots International Airport in the middle of the night November 25th, 2015. The air was cold and smelled like burning. Burning what? Who the heck knows… wood, garbage, or perhaps both. In a post-travel haze, we met our welcoming party, loaded our mountains of luggage and our dog into a van and were whisked off onto the dark, poorly lit streets of outer Yerevan.
Once we got to the edge of town, what I now know to be Victory Bridge, I was in awe of the bright lights in all directions. The tall LG tower, the beautiful facade of the Ararat Brandy Factory, and huge, bright TV screen type billboards advertising cell phones… or vodka or whatever.
We drove through Republic Square, the heartbeat of Yerevan, which after 20 hours of traveling and 9 time zones, seemed like a whirlwind of cars and lights. They were all going so fast and knew exactly where they were going in synchronized chaos, while I sat disoriented with my toddler son in the back of a van, just trying to regain my bearings. Not long after, we pulled into what seemed like an alley and stopped in front of a tall apartment building. In a fog, we rode the 11 stories to our temporary apartment where we would make our first memories of our overseas home.
The apartment was cold. It was foreign. My dog ran around frantically, sniffing every corner, every sofa cushion, every doorway, ecstatic to be out of her traveling crate. She never traveled well.
The only shred of warmth to be found at 11:45 pm was the dinner left for us in the fridge by our sponsors. Chicken (I think?) and fried cauliflower. We received a rundown of information about phones, logistics, and security. And then in an instant, we were on our own. I’ve never felt so removed from the world.
We managed to sleep a few hours and woke at 4 am Thanksgiving morning. I seriously hate jet lag. If it were any other time, I would have been up bright and early, happily preparing my favorite meal of the year, a cup of coffee in hand… or mimosa… or perhaps both. That’s how I roll.
Instead, my husband, my son, and I journeyed out of our apartment building to find a grocery store on that cold Thursday morning. Stocking up on some basics, we wandered the streets until we were to be picked up for a Thanksgiving dinner being thrown by my future-boss. It was all we could do to stay awake and sociable.
With only a few familiar faces, we stood in a room of 30 or so strangers, celebrating the only thing we all had in common at that very moment: American Thanksgiving. In traditional fashion, our host gave an eloquent speech and asked the guests to share what they were thankful for.
I don’t remember what our answer was – something witty or cliche, perhaps. I was holding M who was on the brink of a meltdown. You would be too if you were 1.5 and just traveled the world.
We left the party early, barely able to communicate to our driver where we were staying. That cold, desolate apartment in the middle of the largest city in Armenia.
We eventually moved into our permanent house: an amazing three-story home on the edge of downtown with tall ceilings and an apricot orchard.
The Thanksgiving to Share
A few months later, we joyfully found out I was pregnant with our daughter. She was due January 1st, and per DoS regulations, I was to return to the United States for medical leave at 34 weeks, the week before Thanksgiving 2016.
While excited to be able to spend the holiday with my family at home, my husband wouldn’t able to join us for another month. Saddened that we had to spend Thanksgiving apart, we chose to celebrate it early as a family. We even invited our son’s nanny and her family to share our holiday with us.
You may remember that I LOVE holiday food and seriously everything about cooking, from brining the turkey to rolling out pie crust. So I was determined to make the best damn holiday meal I could before I left.
Finding all the ingredients was a challenge in itself and learned a lot about my resourcefulness that year. I found one lonely frozen turkey at my local grocery store. I found a jar of cherries from our garden I had frozen the previous summer. And I made my own cream-of-chicken soup to recreate my mother-in-law’s broccoli casserole. Well, I tried at least.
Was it a lot of work? I was 8 months pregnant. What do you think.
Was it worth it? 100% ABSOLUTELY.
I’m not sure our Armenian guests enjoyed my mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce as much as I did, but they were gracious about it. Having had the opportunity to immerse myself in Armenian culture for the previous year, I’m grateful to have been able to share with them a slice of my family’s traditions, even if they aren’t fans of pumpkin pie. (Seriously though.)
While I have orchestrated many large family holiday meals in the past with my own family, my one true Armenian Thanksgiving will always hold a special place in my heart as the year we shared one of our favorite traditions with new family. Even though it wasn’t actually celebrated on Thanksgiving.
The Thanksgiving of Reflection
So that brings me to today. Two years later, and my third Thanksgiving in Armenia. We’re leaving soon, just about a week left. The movers have come and have already packed all our household items. Including my roasting pan, pie plates, and stand mixer. All of my tools to create my favorite meal of the year are currently in boxes on a truck, heading to godknowswhere.
This year we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in a different way. This year we’re celebrating all the friends that have enriched our lives while we live away from our home cities and own families. The friends who in themselves have become family to us.
Because isn’t that the spirit of Thanksgiving? There are songs and sentiments about being home for the holidays, but at the risk of sounding corny, as an expat, your home becomes wherever your people are.
Were any of these Thanksgivings particularly remarkable? No, probably not. But each one taught me to be present in the moment and to rethink what I thought I held as traditions.
As we’re on the cusp of leaving Armenia, our first cold, jet-lagged Thanksgiving seems like a lifetime ago.
Next year, we will spend another Thanksgiving in a new country. I don’t know what that one will hold, or even the one after that.
But what I do know, is that I will always carry the memories of these first three expat Thanksgivings, the constant flux of traditions, and that smell of Yerevan in November.
- 4 Reasons Why I’m Raising My Kids Abroad
- Get to Know: Armenia
- The First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Yerevan
- DIY Holiday Meal Ingredients