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Coping with a “Turkeyless” Thanksgiving

I know what you’re thinking. What is Thanksgiving without a turkey? What kind of sorcery is that? Well, I experienced it and I am here to tell you that I survived and it is indeed possible to give thanks without copious amounts of turkey, potatoes and other sinful food on multiple overflowing plates. To be honest, Thanksgiving kind of snuck up on me.

Before I knew it, November 28th was upon us and I soon realized that I would not be indulging in a disgusting amount of traditional Thanksgiving food with my family in the blistery Michigan weather. I have to admit I was a little homesick at that moment. I had never in my life been out of the U.S. for Thanksgiving and I was a little envious of my friends as I was inundated with Snapchats of turkeys and Instagram and Facebook posts of them with their families and their spreads of food.

I quickly snapped out of this separation anxiety and realized that I had a lot to look forward to and a lot to be thankful for. I was spending Thanksgiving in this beautiful country with amazing people who I have become to close with. I was also not completely deprived of a hefty meal, CEA planned a Thanksgiving dinner for us at a nearby cafe, La Musa Confusa.

The chef prepared for us typical Costa Rican Christmas food! We first started off with tamales, which the entire family helps make during the day on Christmas Eve.They are very different from the Mexican tamales that most of us are used to. Instead of being wrapped in corn husks they are encased in banana leaves! I loved the variety of vegetables and flavor of these tamales. They were perfect when topped with a little bit of Lizano (the ubiquitous brown sauce that ticos most commonly put on tamales and gallo pinto). To drink we had the choice of a mora fresco (blackberry natural drink) or horchata (cinnamon rice drink). I used to work at a Mexican restaurant in high school where I was introduced to horchata and I am an addict. Honestly, I think I was the most excited about the horchata.

Our main dish was pork, mashed sweet potatoes (which surprisingly weren’t orange) with candied walnuts and a fresh salad that had strawberries and sunflower seeds. The sweet potatoes were a great touch that allowed us to have a hint of our traditional Thanksgiving turkey pairings.

For dessert we had rompope, which is very similar to eggnog and queque de navidad or fruitcake. I had never tried eggnog in the states but I enjoyed the rompope. I might just have to sip on some while laying on the beach to initiate some Christmas cheer next weekend. As for the fruitcake... I have never liked it and I don’t think I ever will. I am a chocolate fiend and dried fruit in bread just doesn’t cut it for my sweet tooth. 

Our program directors Maggie and Leo encouraged us to prepare a game or activity about Thanksgiving for the attending “mama ticas and papa ticos”. My roommate Jill and I came up with five questions ranging from the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims over, to how many turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving day. The students were not allowed to help their host parents as they tried to guess the answers. Seeing their reaction to the number of turkeys that are consumed was my personal favorite (the answer is about 280 million in case you were wondering).

Some of the other activities included singing of a few Christmas songs, drawings of how Thanksgiving started, and paper turkeys which each family decorated with words or phrases that they are thankful for.

I loved being able to share with our host families our Thanksgiving traditions. I cannot express how thankful I am to have the opportunity to study in such a beautiful country and my experiences here will forever change my life. If you’re considering studying abroad in the fall but are wary of missing the holidays, you will survive. Thanksgiving happens every year, but being able to study abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Your family traditions will still be there when you return and not to mention you will have some AMAZING stories and pictures to share with your family over Christmas dinner.  

¡Pura Vida!

Emily Franks is the Fall 2013 CEA MOJO in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a junior at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. 
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