Thanksgiving in the UK

As an American sojourning in a foreign land, I felt that it was my personal responsibility to introduce my fellow students to the happiness and joy that a genuine spirit of thankfulness can bring to a person (especially when that spirit of thankfulness is expressed in a large turkey!) In other words, I really wanted to cook a whole bunch of food for my friends over here, and let them know what a real American Thanksgiving is like!

It makes sense that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving over here. After, Thanksgiving is a celebration of a first harvest in the new world, and Scotland is certainly part of the old world. It’s a little more surprising that none of them seem to know what Thanksgiving is about, and many seem to guess that is has something to do with Lincoln. (A fact that I find quite interesting, Lincoln was the first to declare Thanksgiving a national holidays, but US citizens are more likely to think of pilgrims.) What really got me, though, was my friend Rachel declaring that she had never even heard of Thanksgiving! I wondered to myself, what do they DO in Northern Ireland??

Every Thursday evening here in St. Andrews, I take part in a wonderful small group with some of the best people I have met here in Scotland. The group is diverse; we have two Americans, one person from Singapore, three Northern Irish, as well as a healthy blend of Scottish and English students! 🙂 And of course, because small group occurs every Thursday, the two Americans (Vannah and I) realized fairly early on in the term that we needed to introduce our small group to a proper Thanksgiving!

Our Thanksgiving actually happened the day before Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving eve. Vannah was super amazing, she was the one who really made it happened and organized everyone! She invited all of the guests: all I had to do was show up and help prepare. She and I spent almost the entire day in the kitchen! We made homemade pies, chickens (since most people don’t like turkey 😦 ), green bean casserole, dressing, and sweet tea. The kitchen was exploding with ingredients! I think the best way to describe to you how messy our kitchen was is to tell you there was a point where we LOST an ENTIRE CASSEROLE! That’s when we knew we needed to think about straightening up! J

The most hilarious thing was watching all of the British students see all of our food for the first time. None of them had ever had green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, or even heard of dressing (stuffing!) They wondered at sweet tea and asked if they were supposed to add milk, or if it was alcoholic. They stared at their plates and made comments about how they had never had so many strange foods on their plate at the same time! It was basically hilarious! J  One of the best parts of the evening occurred at the end, when everyone around the table shared what they were most thankful for! It is always amazing to take time to give thanks to the Lord for all of His amazing blessings, and I certainly know I have MANY things to be grateful for!

A wonderful meal with wonderful friends! :)

A wonderful meal with wonderful friends! 🙂

Living Abroad and Thanksgiving in Spain

Have a seat, make yourself comfortable, and enjoy a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal on the Mediterranean

There is just nothing like living in another country to broaden one’s perspective. Since arriving in Spain, I’ve discovered that almost everything—from gestures and language to packaging in the grocery store—is a little bit different. It’s one thing to read about and study other countries; it’s something entirely different to daily encounter little differences that cause you to scratch your head and say, “oh…but I thought everyone did it this way”. For example, I enjoyed a delicious vegetable stew the other day, prepared by my wonderful host mother, only to discover (with a shudder, I’ll admit) that that “unusual” soup ingredient that she’d mentioned and which I’d eaten with relish was blood sausage. (It was probably for the best, because, had I known what morcilla was beforehand, I highly doubt that I would have enjoyed my meal so immensely.) When Puri saw the look of disconcerted comprehension dawn on my face as I looked up the
word for said dish after lunch, she calmly explained how black pudding is made and pointed out that we eat far more questionable animal products in the form of hotdogs and hamburgers. She’s quite right, of course, and it’s been interesting to think since, in light of that experience, about how the “psychology of food” works.

Allison and Cassie with the mashed potatoes!

Now, don’t get me wrong—when I say that Spain is “different”, I don’t mean to imply that it’s dramatically different from the US. As in most modern, developed countries, houses, clothing styles, transportation, and the amenities of life are all about the same, with the one exception in Alicante being the absence of heating and air in houses. You see, since the weather here is rarely extreme, there really isn’t all that much need for AC and heat. Even so, I confess that I sorely felt the lack of air conditioning during my first couple of weeks here. As the seasons have changed, though, and it’s become a bit chillier, the absence this particular amenity has been really made me think. Perhaps having buildings toasty warm—almost to the point of discomfort—inside makes our bodies less able to adapt to seasonal changes of temperature? Being without heating and air has also made me realize how often I flip a switch when I feel hot or cold when really, I could sim
ply put on warmer clothing or drink some iced water and get the same effect in a more economic and environmentally-friendly way.

The table set for Thanksgiving at the home of our beloved professors, Armando and Cynthia

Call me a comfort-loving American (guilty as charged), but when I was first adjusting to life in Spain, the idea of not being able to control the temperature of my surroundings whenever I wanted was rather disconcerting. However, as I’ve seen that yes, it is quite possible to live comfortably—albeit in an area with a mild climate—without heating and air, I’ve also become much more sensitive to body-temperature phenomena like these: Cold? Solution: more clothing, hot tea, and/or blankets. Hot? Solution: don’t drink hot tea, wear cool clothing, and sit outside in the breeze. All that isn’t to say that I’m going to stop using heat when I go home (hardly)…but the experience of living in an area where almost no houses even have a heating and air system installed in them has certainly made me more thoughtful about the way I view stewardship and the way in which something I consider a necessity may actually only be an unexamined habit of living. Really, then, as in a
ll areas of life, when it comes to our expenditure of energy, balance is the key; and I think I’ll return home a bit more balanced.

Another “little” difference that is obvious but which still struck me as odd at first is the absolute absence of a vitally important holiday, which is celebrated by festivities all around the world (right?)…yes, Thanksgiving. Well of course no one in Europe (or anywhere else in the world except in the US, for that matter) commemorates the first thanksgiving meal held by the pilgrims in the New World out of gratitude to the Lord for his provision. In fact, if you type the word “Thanksgiving” into Google.es (the Spanish version of Google, which automatically appears in place of Google.com when one is in Spain), you will immediately pull up perfectly natural questions like “¿Qué es Thanksgiving?” (“What is Thanksgiving?”) and the subsequent explanation. In fact, I just had a conversation with my elevator friend (dubbed thusly because she’s a delightful former teacher whom I always seem to bump into in the elevator in our apartment), and she was under the impres
sion that Thanksgiving was the American version of Christmas. My mother was also quite surprised to hear that, today, November 24th, was the day of my final exam for one of my classes. I will be celebrating the holiday this afternoon, however, by having a Thanksgiving meal with my study abroad group at the home of our esteemed professor, Armando. I’m also going to attempt to make buttermilk biscuits without real buttermilk (which, like cranberries, doesn’t seem to be sold here in Alicante) and using an entirely different system of measurements. So I think I’ll need 440 grams of flour?

Reflection

Once again I’ve underestimated just how much actually goes on at Erskine because as you know, I haven’t blogged all semester!

Between trying to figure out the best way to revive a student newspaper, 21 hours of classes (yes, 21 because music stuff counts too!!), working on a business project, attending concerts, visiting friends, etc, I haven’t taken the time to sit down and write about it all. Which is a shame, considering the fact that I’ve done so much since I’ve been here. But, I’m back now (whether you’ve missed me or not) to fill you all in on my Erskine experience.

Today let me share with you some random thoughts as I sit in my room on this rather chilly Tuesday afternoon…

I am blessed.

Now, before you just stop reading and say to yourself, “Here she goes getting all spiritual!” I encourage you to pause right now wherever you are and think about how blessed you are.

***insert long pause here in which you reflect on the facts:

1. you most likely have on clothes now

2. you obtained those clothes with money

3. to make money you probably have a job

4. in order to work efficiently and effectively you must be healthy

5. if you’re healthy that means you’re getting nutrition from food

6. you probably have more than one option for what kind of meal you want to have

7. most people can eat at a dining table

8. which is in a house

9. that you live in with your family

…well, the list could continue on & on but I think you are getting the picture.

So, hopefully by now you’ve reflected on all these things and aren’t you thankful for everything you’re blessed with?! I know its Novemeber (already?!) but just because this is the season of thanksgiving don’t become apathetic about it. In this life, it’s so easy to take everything we have for granted but do me a favor and please try (I will be trying myself) to just thank God for ONE simple blessing every morning when you wake up.

There’s nothing wrong with reflection. In fact I think reflecting allows you to just be still and think about life in general. Maybe its just cause it finally hit me that I’m a Junior in college (yikes!) and that I still have no idea what step to take after this…

Grad school? Pursue music? Work for a news station? Or even (dun dun dun…) come back to Erskine to work? (I call it one of the Christian College Problems…where the alumni try to come back to work there if all else fails, though there’s nothing wrong with that…ha)

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing.  I think its just hard for us to truly be okay with uncertainty. And isn’t that unfortunate when we know that Christ already has it all figured out?  All we have to do is take the time to seek out His will and actually OBEY it.

I don’t know what you may be going through right now, but I pray that you realize just how blessed you truly are. Its so easy to gravitate toward all the wrongs in our lives but know that just like Joseph in the Bible, God can take all of your wrongs and turn them into good!

Instead of focusing on how things could have been, focus on making things the way they aught to be.

“Upheld by My Righteous, Omnipotent Hand”

The Baccalaureate Service is a collegiate tradition where the senior class gathers with professors, friends, and relatives in a worship service several days before Commencement. I’m reading Wikipedia here – apparently the tradition began in the 1400’s when each Oxford graduate would give a sermon, and apparently recent separation of church and state judicial rulings have meant that any state-school Baccalaureate’s must be student organized rather than official school functions.

But it is not that Erskine can officially hold a Baccalaureate Service that makes it so different, so special. The Baccalaureate at Erskine College is the last time that a class gathers together to corporately worship God. That is a profoundly beautiful statement, I think – though maybe its just because I’m in an emotional mood – because it shows how Erskine is more than a mere academic institution that passes out diplomas, she is a community of Christians – and non-Christians – who are here to give glory to God.

It is beautiful because this service tonight was just the symbolic last corporate worship of a class. There have been many before, from the first Sunday of Freshman Orientation where they barely knew each other and thought college was for sleeping in, and through four years of chapels they dragged themselves to before lunch for convocation credit. And there will be many more in the future. This class will go their separate ways and, though bonded for a lifetime by friendships and memories, will never again assemble together.

But Erskine is just part of a larger authentically Christian community, her Christians are just a small part of the Church of Christ, and so this class – in two years time, my class – will assemble again to worship God, every Sunday across the globe, and every moment in a heavenly church where faith will become sight.

“How good and how beautiful it is for leaders like the Erskine community to dwell together in unity.”

Pastor Andy Lewis of Mitchell Road PCA in Greenville gave the Baccalaureate Address on “Learning to Live.” The central Biblical text to the address was John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Lewis went one direction with the text, but my mind kept going another. Yes – I was that bad of a listener. Critical Thinking is a core of academia and was a core of Dr. Bill Crenshaw’s approach to my Freshman Seminar. In fact, a question on Erskine’s teacher evaluations asks whether a teacher effectively taught us to critically think. A person who critically thinks evaluates the world with – well – a critical eye, a mind that accepts ideas and beliefs only on the basis of evaluated and thorough evidence.

And critical thinking is truly a necessary thing to learn in college and to possess in life – too few people in this world critically think. But over the last year of talking with Dr. Norman he has convinced me – I swear through some Obamaian idealism – of the necessity of creative thinking. Critical thinking destroys, but creative thinking builds. Creative thinking evaluates the world to improve it, to make tomorrow’s world not our world, to build not just ideas but lives.

And I think (okay, Norman has convinced me that) creative thinking – maybe like critical thinking – can only truly be done through the lens and with the wisdom of Jesus Christ.

Here at college it is so easy to let critical thinking steal and kill and destroy our ideas and our groundedness in the world in which we live, it is so easy to climb into that ivory tower of academia these four years (and beyond) and forget the poor (of spirit and material) for whom we receive our diplomas, and it is so hard to learn that Christ has come to give us and the world life and that it is only through Him that we may flourish.

If Erskine is anything I think it must be a community that worships our great God together – as the senior class did tonight – and an institution that builds in us the creative thinking to live and to build that life in others.

This is Erskine College, my college, my home, and I thank God that this is who she is.