Thanksgiving on the road and abroad

I am at the time of this writing in Florida visiting my mother and an uncle who also migrated here away from other regions.

The time of the US observance of Thanksgiving always brings to my mind a particular experience of this American holiday.

I have posted this before, but I’ll repeat myself with some editing for the sake of new readers:

During my years in Rome, especially before greater connectivity, there were times when I completely forgot the existence of American holidays such as Thanksgiving.  It would come upon me like an epiphany and I would often feel great isolation.  I was never part of the American ghetto in Rome.

The growth of bandwidth changed many things, especially my sense of being separated at times of national celebration.  I was, for example, able to stream radio from the USA and later even stream my own satellite TV box.  Chats were more than IRC and e-mail.  I could have my US phone number ring directly in my Roman abode and pick up a dedicated handset and call the US for free. 

But the greater connectivity diminished in some ways the intensity of my all experience, not just that of loneliness or of removal from my roots.

Once, in that eon before bandwidth, my mother came to visit.  I had a big apartment with lots of room close the to the Vatican.  

Coming home one evening at suppertime, ready to dig into the kitchen and make something to eat for us, I arrived at the door and was greeted with wondrous fragrances.

The table was set and there was great golden brown bird and dishes with delights.

That it was Thanksgiving struck me like thunder.

The woman had, without any knowledge of Italian, gone to the neighborhood stores and the open market.  She had collected everything useful she could find for the day.  She managed to decipher the Italian oven, which doesn’t have degree settings even in centigrade.  She made a Thanksgiving feast.

Later I heard the tales from the highly amused and completely charmed shopkeepers.  This American woman, whom they knew was my mother, had charged in here and there and with lots of smiles and pantomime.  I think most of them would have paid money to have had her repeat her charades to communicate "turkey".  She could pick and choose vegetables, of course, and other packaged goods weren’t so tough, but how she gestured "baking soda", I’ll never know.  As it turns out, she settled for a big chicken, and the cookies she made with the baking soda were every bit as good as any she ever made back in the States. 

An intense Thanksgiving experience.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. wanda says:

    A very blessed Thanksgiving to you, Fr. Z. and to your Mother & family. What a lovely story, I like to think that I would do the same, that’s what Mothers do.

  2. Dr. Eric says:

    During the Jubilee I was in Rome for a week. I called my mother on Independence Day. I called her before I went to bed and she said that the guests were arriving. I called her the next morning (Rome time) and she said they were still partying. I told her that I had been to bed and it was morning in Rome. After hearing that she said, “You’ve already been to bed? I gotta get these people to leave my house, they’ve been here too long!”

    Happy Thanksgiving to Fr. Z and everyone here.

  3. pseudomodo says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you Father!

    Of course we Canadians have had ours already, being on the gregorian calendar and not on the julian calendar like you guys! ;)

    Don’t forget to remove the giblet bag BEFORE you put the bird in the oven! I know this from experience…

  4. Gabriella says:

    A happy Thanksgiving to you all!

  5. pyrosapien says:

    Thanks for the story Father. I can see your mom flapping her arms and “gobbling”.

    Reminds me of Thanksgivings away from home while in the Navy. But at least I had fellow shipmates to be with.

  6. KAS says:

    Have a blessed Thanksgiving Fr. Z!

    I’m having a quiet Thanksgiving and it is nice, the macaw is screaming, the baby is sleeping, the parade is on the tube, and I shall shortly pull the smoked turkey from the frig and begin slicing it and dropping the little bits into a bowl for a wonderful post thanksgiving casserole!

    I may try to make individual serving versions for the freezer too.

    Happy Day everybody!

  7. jfk03 says:

    Dear Father,

    As I write (from Mendocino County, California), I am watching a wild tom turkey strut through my back yard. It looks quite edible. Shall I fetch my shotgun and bag it for you? If so, the problem would be in getting it to Florida in time for your Thanksgiving dinner, which will be about 3 hours ahead of mine.

    Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

  8. servusmariaen says:

    I was just thinking the other day about my 10+ years in Germany and how I too would forget about it being Thanksgiving day. Usually I was working. One year I decided to go out at the prompting of my German friends who wanted to experience a real American Thanksgiving. I went to the shops and found a large turkey. I’ve been a vegetarian for many years but I still remembered how to make a turkey. I made a pumpkin pie, wild rice dressing and everything I could. A blessed Thanksgiving to you Father and everyone.

  9. chloesmom says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, Father– as another commenter already noted, we’ve had ours in Canada, but my husband is American, so we’re definitely aware of it! Pseudomodo, the first time I ever cooked a turkey I too left the giblet bag inside, prompting my husband to ask, “What’s that funny smell?” Needless to say, haven’t done it since — but the turkey was good anyway! Enjoy the day, everyone, and have a wonderful weekend.

  10. Vincentius says:

    When I was preparing my first Thanksgiving meal in Italy, I went on a search for sweet potatoes. I went looking for “patate dolci”- literally sweet potatoes. The merchants, pointing to normal tubers, proclaimed their potatoes to be sweet. Finally, one , realizing what I wanted, said he had “patate americane” which I learned are the delicious white sweet potatoes they have in Italy. I also asked for a Turk instead of a turkey-but that’s another story!.
    My Italian friends and relatives came to know the holiday and were amazed that we roasted a whole turkey and flipped over the idea that we made a desert from squash! The above great stories brought back these great memories.
    Happy and Holy Thanksgiving to all.

  11. kradcliffe says:

    That’s an awesome story and I liked hearing it again.

    I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying warmer weather and your family today.

    Last year, I must have sounded sort of glum when I commented on your post, because you so kindly sent me a podcast thingy of Thanksgiving music and such from (I think) NPR. That really cheered me up.

    This year, I did have Thanksgiving at a friend’s house, although we did it on Saturday night. My British friends did an admirable job of cooking the turkey.

  12. chironomo says:

    Welcome to Florida… you picked a bone-chillingly cold week to visit! It’s 72 here on the Suncoast…about 18 degrees colder than just a few days ago. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. paul_leone says:

    Here’s wishing Father and everyone else here a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

  14. Eyeawa says:

    Greetings from upstate Iowa.

    Happy Thanksgiving from all of our family, to all of yours.

    May your stuffing be tasty
    May your turkey be plump,
    May your potatoes and gravy
    Have never a lump.
    May your yams be delicious
    And your pies take the prize,
    And may your Thanksgiving dinner
    Stay off your thighs!

    God Bless you all.

  15. Girgadis says:

    Dear Father

    Thanks for sharing this endearing story. I’m happy to hear that you are able to share Thanksgiving with your mother. I send my kindest regards to her and to you. I am reminded a bit about my childhood Thanksgivings, which for many years were spent at the home of my Italian-born paternal grandmother. She could not conceive of a holiday meal without pasta and when we, her grandchildren, would ask where the turkey was, she would respond with a contemptuous “hmph”. One year, however, she softened, and after the homemade ravioli, produced a glorious-looking bird from the kitchen. A capon was as far as she was willing to go for us, but it was something I look back on with much fondness and nostalgia. Happy Thanksgiving!

  16. r.j.sciurus says:

    What a wonderful story. Have a great time together!

  17. Dr. K says:

    Happy thanksgiving, Father.

  18. TomB says:

    I remember this story, and it’s great in the re-telling! Thanks, Fr. Z, and a very happy thanksgiving to you and your mom. M. is here in Colo. with me, and we’ll celebrate with David S. and his wife this afternoon. SIngle-malt for dessert LOL! God bless you always.

  19. Kimberly says:

    I have never read this story before. It was delightful. I love the part about her charades to communicate “turkey”, it does cause one to create pictures in their mind. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving Father.

  20. I had the same experience with forgetting holidays that were exclusive to the US when I lived in Eastern Europe for just over 2 years.

    Thanksgiving, specifically, I missed one year and it was one of the locals there who brought it to my attention when she asked: “Isn’t it a big holiday in the US today?”. It took me a few minutes.

    I wishe she hadn’t reminded me because I ended up with a sudden, strong craving for turkey and there was none to be had.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  21. Rose in NE says:

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  22. MaryAgnesLamb says:

    Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving, Fr. Z!

    What a lovely lady your mother must be, to do such a neat thing for her son–and not to mention intrepid, as well.

  23. Navarricano says:

    Now that’s a mother for you! Something to truly be thankful for.

    Thanks for sharing that, Father. I have never been part of the American ghetto here in Spain either, but I have celebrated Thanksgiving with friends for the past seven or so years. It takes some planning and work, but I can usually round up everything I need to have all the essential flavors of the day: turkey and stuffing, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce etc. But it’s also a very international even in my house, with regular participants from various parts of Spain, France and England, lots of French cheeses, Spanish serrano ham and French and Spanish wine added to the mix.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! You are in my prayers.

  24. All the great stories never get “old” to the ears of those who hear them nor the tongues of those who tell them.

    I love this story.

    Happy Thanksgiving Father and all here! May God bless you.

  25. Jane says:

    It takes a bit of creativity to communicate without knowing the language, and Fr Z’s mother obviously is creative.

    Here is my brother’s creative effort at communication:

    My brother was in Italy and wanted to get to a railway station. He communicated with some of the locals by making train sounds (Thomas the tank!)

    It did the trick. They pointed in the direction of the local railway station.

  26. DominiSumus says:

    I hope you and your family have a great Thanlsgiving.

  27. joan ellen says:

    Thank you for the story Fr. Happy Thanksgiving to you & your mom & famly.

  28. PomeroyJohn says:

    I hope that your mother is enjoying your company during this Thanksgiving time. Make sure you let her know that she is often in our prayers. And spend time with HER, don’t worry about keeping the blog postings up.

    John in Pomeroy on the Palouse (who’s unable to spend this Thanksgiving with HIS parents)

  29. Rob Cartusciello says:

    God bless your mother. It took courage to sally forth in a foreign country without knowing any of the language, but the mission was accomplished. I was reminded of a conversation I tried to have with my Italian cousin last month as to weather the animal on the crest of our town (Padula) was a duck or a goose. Lots of pantomime was involved. The answer: goose.

    There is a good Spanish saying: An ounce of mother is worth a pound of priest. Wisdom in that.

  30. irishgirl says:

    I know this is a day late-but I really liked the story of your mom in Italy during Thanksgiving! She sounds like an amazing woman [well, she did raise an amazing son].

    Eyeawa-your poem is a scream! Loved it!

    I spent Thanksgiving with a family that goes to the same TLM chapel. He has six brothers, and they’re all dentists! I took an elderly widow who knows the family quite well. We had a great time, sitting around and eating stuff like ravioli [one dish with meat, the other one stuffed with sugar and cinnamon-that was interesting], turkey, smashed potatoes, squash, and asparagus. Dessert was two kinds of pies [pumpkin and apple] and pumpkin cheesecake. And my host’s family really like their champagne, wine, and port-they drank it very freely! I stuck to fizzy lemonade and soda.

    I was stuffed by the time my passenger and I left…and we got leftovers to take home with us!

    I also got a call earlier in the day from my English priest-friend-he wished me a happy Thanksgiving! Now that was a nice treat, hearing from him!

  31. coeyannie says:


    I have a question and I hope it isn’t too personal. Why are you in Rome. Why aren’t you in the United States. We need good priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Mpls. Please come home.

    God Bless you and hope you are feeling better.

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