I tried to explain Thanksgiving to a Japanese acquaintance.

“So the Indians and Pilgrims were having a party?”  … “Hmm, sort of,” I replied.

“So you have a party to celebrate the party?” … “Eh, I guess. Sort of.”

“You shove the stuffing WHERE?!” … “I suppose it is a little gross when you think about it that way…”

Celebrating American holidays in Japan is a little strange. The holidays are often acknowledged, though the interpretation is a little off, like you’re looking at the holiday through kaleidoscope glasses. But Thanksgiving flies under the radar. Japan jumps right from Halloween to Christmas, so I was delighted when some friends offered to host Thanksgiving dinner.

I love to cook the whole meal — preparing everything from scratch, of timing it so it’s all hot at the right moment, of baking pies and then eating pies and then having pies and stuffing for breakfast. But this year we did something I thought I’d never do. We had it catered. Martha Stewart would be so ashamed. Well screw you, Martha Stewart.

Our friend Miri (who I met at this time last year) cooked our dinner, and it was amazing.

Photos of food at Thanksgiving dinner are always kind of gross, with their heaps and gravies. You’re welcome.

The gathering was also fantastic. Friends from the States, Japan, Australia, and the UK made fun of jellied cranberries and told inappropriate small pox jokes over turkey gravy and plates of pie. At about the 4th bottle of wine we decided our day-before-Thanksgiving gathering should be called Gratesgiving. Those Brits always have to do their own thing.

It also happened to be my birthday. A great day for a Gratesgiving.

I Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  A bold statement, I know.  Though really, it’s a no-brainer.  I love to eat and drink good wine, and my favorite way to do those things is slowly and with friends.  I don’t even like turkey that much.  But I love the ritual.  I love that it takes all day to prepare a meal, mostly from scratch.  I love talking and fussing about the turkey.  I love gathering with my friends and family to eat and gossip and laugh.  I usually like to wear a new sweater.  Oh, and I love the pie.

I love Thanksgiving dinner so much, that when I met a woman with an American restaurant a few weeks ago, I offered to help her with her Thanksgiving catering and peel potatoes, just for fun.  And so this past week I spent a few mornings at her shop, chopping and slicing (and chatting her ears off).  So maybe I had an ulterior motive and was hoping she’d take pity on me and be my friend, but that’s it.  I knew her turkeys were already called for.

I spent Thanksgiving Day at home, cooking a pumpkin soup and preparing for our first US holiday away from home.  I had time (a first!) to think about the things I am thankful for.  And then I got a message from my new friend the Caterer.  She had some turkey leftovers and would I like them?  Yes!  Please!  When I stopped by her shop, she presented me with a beautiful tray of… an entire Thanksgiving feast for two.  It was amazing.  Wild rice, brussel sprouts, cranberries — all the things I didn’t realize I’d been missing.

And so we had our first Thanksgiving away from home, and it suddenly didn’t feel so far away.  Big dinners with my family happen frequently, and not just on holidays.  So I feel lucky.  And turkey and new friends have now popped into my life unexpectedly.  I can’t help but think of all the kindness and love around me.  For all of this, I am thankful.

For those of you in Tokyo, I encourage you to check out Cravings — the food is wonderful!  Tel: 03-6400-0188, 1F 1-3-12 Minami Azabu Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0047