Happy Holidayssssss

Dustin and I hosted our very first Thanksgiving feast. As it so often happens, Dustin's birthday fell shortly after the holiday. A few weeks before, he'd told me that he wanted a turkey shaped caked that also tasted like turkey. Little did he know, I had already ordered a bird from a website that Tracey shared with me, and it was due to arrive a few days before our Thanksgiving party.

I know that Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday, but all of us English teachers in Japan typically work on Thursdays, so we planned Dustin's birthday party/ Thanksgiving dinner for the following Sunday. After a few rousing games of bowling, we planned on having around 15 people over to our little Japanese apartment for a fabulous feast.

Since I am usually the lone vegetarian at Thanksgiving dinner, I have made the occasional dish to bring to the table, but I have never been responsible for the majority of the meal. Neither Dustin nor I have ever had anything to do with cooking a turkey. Having observed my mother over the years, I understood that you must start the cooking the day before if everything is to be finished in time. I spent most of Saturday night cooking up a storm. I continued in the morning, and somehow finished everything in the nick of time. I made glazed carrots, gravy, stuffing, cheesecake, brownies, and about 3 pounds of garlic mashed potatoes! The gravy was lumpy and the brownies exploded all over the oven, but they were gobbled up nonetheless.

Dustin did the turkey. It was quite a task, with a few problems. First problem, this tiny 3.4 kg turkey was too big to fit in our even tinier Japanese oven. Second problem, our oven is a bit finicky. It never seems to think the suggested amount of time is appropriate; sometimes it thinks 25 minutes should be 40, at other times 5 minutes into a 20 minute cooking time leaves something burnt to a crisp... So we weren't really sure how long it should stay in there.

Dustin solved the first problem by chopping off the wings and legs, and cooking the torso on its own. The second problem was solved by lots of observation. The instructions that came with our roasting bag said to cook it until most of the cooks agreed that it was done, probably between 2.5-3 hours. Well... neither of us knew how to tell if it was done, but it looked brown, so we took it out. And thankfully, it was done. And then the rest of the poor disassembled bird was stuck in the oven, and an hour later, it too was enjoyed by the carnivores in the room. Everyone happily ate the turkey without complaint, but once the guests left, Dustin admitted that it was much drier than the turkey he's used to. It was his first attempt and it was edible, so I declare it a success.

The evening turned out to be another lovely potluck in Japan. We had more dessert than we knew what to do with, but there were very few complaints about that. And our Japanese guests brought sushi, which was a welcome addition to the dinner. Someone even made Sangria! And luckily, our American friends rounded out the dinner with a few other Thanksgiving staples like macaroni and cheese and sweet potato casserole. In a single word, the night was delicious.

And of course, after Thanksgiving the next holiday is... CHRISTMAS! Which I am so very excited about spending in the U.S. that I talk about it far too much these days, so I will refrain from blabbing on and on about all the great fun I will be having in a short week and a half (like eating burritos and seeing the Nutcracker and attending more Christmas "events" than I have ever attended in one year and seeing all of the people I miss the most)!!!

I don't know if any of my faithful readers are familiar with David Sedaris's short story "Me Talk Pretty One Day" from a book of the same name, but I found myself in the midst of a remarkably similar situation the other day. Only we were talking about Christmas traditions around the world in broken Japanese, instead of Easter traditions around the world in broken French.

I have been taking a Japanese class at my local Civic Center since April. Currently, my class consists of me, my American boss, a middle-aged South Korean man who works at a restaurant, a 19 year-old Chinese girl, a middle-aged Chinese woman who I think is a doctor, and a mysterious middle-aged Spanish man from Madrid, who recently joined our class. At the end of each chapter, we take a little quiz that involves filling in the blanks of a story. The one we completed last time was a sort of guess who passage. It was about a man who has a wonderful job where he only has to work one day a year. He wears a red suit, and has white hair. I don't recall what else was in the passage, but I was giggling about half way through having realized that we were talking about Santa Claus here.

After we finished our quiz, my adorable little old Japanese teacher asked, "Who is this?" I said immediately, and a little too enthusiastically, "Santa Claus!" To which one of my Chinese classmates replied, "Who?" Who?!?!? Always prepared, my teacher pulled out a plush Santa and showed it to the Chinese girls who seemed to have recognized the face, but didn't know a thing about him. My teacher starting giving the run down on Santa, and she began by telling us why Santa Claus brings toys to all of the children in the world. She said that Santa Claus is single, but he loves children. I interrupted her to say, "That's wrong. Santa Claus has a wife." My teacher asked her name, and I replied, "Claus San," which could translate to Mrs. Claus or Mr. Claus, so that did nothing to quell her confusion. I broke the normal "Japanese only" rule, and said, "Mrs. Claus" in English.

Being the only American in the room (my boss was absent that day), my teacher felt that I was the authority on Santa Claus, and thus began asking me a multitude of questions about him. "Where does he live?"
"Umm... very north with lots of snow and countryside."
"What does his wife wear?"
"Mr. Santa the same, but dress and glasses."
"Does he have any children?"
"No, but he has many small people friends."
(There was a very confused expression on the face of everyone present at this point.)
Luckily, my teacher understood and said, "Erufu," the katakana version of elf.
Suddenly, the man from South Korea piped up, "Santa Claus very tall. He has blue clothes."
Next the Spanish guy chimed in, "His name is Papa Noel in Spain. We get two days presents. In January, three men put presents in children's shoes."
The Chinese girls continued to insist that they had never heard of this Santa character.

It was a very interesting cultural discussion, but I have a feeling there was an awful lot lost in translation and none of us came away with a complete understanding of the Christmas traditions observed in each others' home countries. Nonetheless, I cannot wait to visit you all in person and talk about all of the things that have been happening that haven't made it to the blog, and hear about your own live in the past year and a half. See you all so very very soon!

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