Wishbones (Thanksgiving Abroad)


Kate V. is currently a junior at SYA China and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Texas.

In America, Thanksgiving means Aunt Vivian’s house, and her three kids who me and my sister lovingly call “uncle” and “aunt” even though they’re technically our cousins. We would all go out to her house in Phoenix and set up the old badminton net on her manicured lawn, and play until we decided that a lemonade break was in order. Thanksgiving means my mom’s family, all 6 of my grandfather’s siblings crowded into one house with their kids and spouses, laughing about great-grandma’s stuffing recipe and exchanging travel stories. Aunt Vivian and Uncle Jeffrey always have pie bake-offs, which Aunt Vivian always wins, mostly because she always makes a chocolate pie, and my grandpa’s entire family are raging chocaholics. Two years ago, Uncle Jeffrey made a berry pie, and he taught me how to weave the strips of dough over the top without breaking them. Two years ago, I met Aunt Madeline’s boyfriend, Jake, for the first time, and then one year ago I went to their wedding. Four years ago, I sat next to Uncle Danny at Thanksgiving dinner, and he taught me how to always win at a wishbone-breaking contest.

“Look, Kate, you have to grab onto the thicker side near the top, okay?” he said, moving my hand from the end of the wishbone up to where the two sides join together. “And pull straight out, don’t twist. If you twist, it’ll break off.” I pulled. The wishbone snapped. “See? You got the bigger piece. Now make a wish!” I wished that someday I would turn out like my cousins Lisa, Danny, and Madeline, all of whom are incredibly smart, poised, and successful young adults, living life in big cities and working interesting jobs like I’d always dreamed.

In America, Thanksgiving represented my idea of family.

However, in China, my definition for Thanksgiving changed, and by extension, my definition for family evolved significantly. On Thanksgiving in Beijing, there was no house with dozens of relatives all piled in like in America (so many relatives, in fact, that we had to move furniture out of Aunt Vivian’s living room and eat in there because the table needed to be so long.) In China, my host mom made me Tang Yuan Er for breakfast, I gave my host sister a hug, and I went off to school like I would any other day.

At first, it made me sad that I was missing out on such an important American holiday that means so much to me and my family. But, as I stood on the 104 bus, packed in tightly between a young businessman and an elderly woman holding her granddaughter’s hand, I realized that the difference between my American and Chinese thanksgivings was exactly what I was thankful for. I suddenly felt incredibly glad, and so grateful, that I was not taking part in the exact same traditions that I always did. I knew that coming to China was going to be a massive change, and I was excited for it. If the traditions were the same in China, that would be boring, and would have completely defeated the point of my reason for coming.

Throughout the day, although I struggled a little bit with being away from my family for the first time during Thanksgiving, I also noticed how much I appreciated the little things about my new home that had become little traditions themselves. I started thinking about all the times I had gone with friends to Fat Tiger to get a coffee after school, and how many times Michael and I had walked to the bus station in the morning, and how many times I had bought Cha Pi from the corner store down the street from school. As someone who has lived in the same house for their whole life, I haven’t gotten the chance to make many new traditions at home. While I cherish all of my family memories and I love spending holidays with my American family, this Thanksgiving taught me how amazing it is to branch out and create special new customs with others.

When I got home on the evening of Thanksgiving, my host mom surprised me with a whole roast duck, corn on the cob, and moon cakes instead of pie, giving me a Chinese version of American Thanksgiving. My host sister excitedly called the moon cakes “China pies,” and my mom explained that she asked the restaurant to not cut the duck so that we could do it at home, like we carve a turkey in the U.S. It made me so happy, and I was incredibly moved at their willingness and enthusiasm to participate in an American tradition and make me feel at home. I think that was the moment that I truly came to understand my new definition of family.

I used to think that family was something that you had to be born into. But my host family has taught me that it can be so much more than that. A family is a network of people who care for and support you, and who work tirelessly to make you feel happy, comfortable, and loved. My host family has been incredibly welcoming and kind to me so far, and, when I think about what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving, they are a huge part of my list.

I taught my host sister how to break the wishbone and win every time, just like my Uncle Danny taught me. When it snapped, I told her to make a wish. She blurted out: “I wish I can be like 姐姐 (older sister) when I get older!”

The wonderful circularity of our wishbone wishes took me aback. It was, probably, one of the most flattering things in the world for my little host sister to feel so close to me that she would want to be like me when she was older. The fact that she admires me and looks up to me, even though I am not a member of her “real” family shows me that, no matter who you are or what family you are born into, if you try hard enough and love those around you, you can create more new little families.

So, this Thanksgiving, my heart is twice as full, with so much love and appreciation for my two families, two sets of friends, and the two amazing places that I now feel like I can call home.

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