What Thanksgiving Means to Me (Hint: It’s Not Turkey)

For the majority of my life, Thanksgiving meant some kind of potato, corn, cranberry sauce (which is actually kinda icky), bread, and a lot of pie (preferably apple and pumpkin, though there was that one accidental sweet potato slip-up) shared between family.

A vegetarian since 10, Thanksgiving never did equal turkey for me

After my mom passed away, we kept the traditional Thanksgiving going for a few years. Actually, those holidays are a blur. I don’t remember anything distinct about them, and definitely not anything happy or pleasant. I didn’t feel grateful about anything.

The “traditional” Thanksgiving action of eating traditional foods didn’t magically inspire gratitude in me, regardless its name.

The most memorable Thanksgiving before I moved abroad was also my favorite, and one I am to this day thankful for.

At some point, we as a family (my brother, sister, father, and I) decided that none of us are really that fond of typical “Thanksgiving” food. So why keep doing it?

The traditional foods were actually historically inaccurate for the most part anyways, as is the story of Thanksgiving itself.

So after discussion, we decided to celebrate by eating food we actually all enjoy, look forward to, and feel good about eating.

Which was….

Mexican, obviously. We ate tacos and did tequila shots.

Some friends of mine, after I told them about my family’s Mexican Thanksgiving, whined that it’s not a “real” Thanksgiving (I think – they’re just jealous!!!)

But it made me consider what makes a holiday. Tradition is definitely part of it, but if the tradition doesn’t serve to bring you joy, greater connection, or more fulfillment – what’s the point?

Thanksgiving, for me then and up to this day, is about two very important things – GRATITUDE and LOVE. Preferably shared over food 😉

Thanksgiving Rio Brazil 2

my first Thanksgiving in Brazil last year

Not stuffing or cranberry sauce or pumpkin (actually, I haven’t had any of those things at my past 3 Thanksgivings).

For me, Thanksgiving means being grateful for the people you love in your life, whether related to you by blood or not, and grateful for the opportunities that you’ve been given.

This year, I celebrated Thanksgiving a bit early (as today I’m in the airport!) and without my fiance, who is out of Brazil, in our new home making a better life for us.

But I still gathered some of my closest and most beloved friends, shared a meal of delicious food, and discussed the aspects of life that we’re all thankful for.

THanksgiving in Brazil (1)

Aside from me, the meal was full of Thanksgiving first timers, and it was an absolute joy to share the tradition of a yearly gratitude meal with the people I am SO grateful for.

THanksgiving in Brazil (1)

United Nations, 5 countries, 4 continents, all friends

We ate potatoes (because they’re delicious, not because we had to), salad, eggplant/tomato/zucchini bake, cheese and crackers, nuts, and a delicious homemade ice cream cake dessert (that even my horrendous freezer couldn’t manage to destroy).

THanksgiving in Brazil (1) THanksgiving in Brazil (1) THanksgiving in Brazil (8)

Apple cider sangria was drunk and gratitude was shared. What’s better than that?

THanksgiving in Brazil (1)

and this year – we even had a turkey!


How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?


A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

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