Looking back, it seems absurd that I thought Australia was a mini-America.
Newly-wed, I moved Down Under in January 2007. I discovered these truths: English is spoken here, but it sounds funny; the seasons are opposite of the calendar I know; holidays are more British than anything else, and yes, the water flows counter-clockwise.
During my first year, new Aussie friends asked about Thanksgiving and what it meant. They had no idea what Thanksgiving is or why Americans celebrate it. It's a unique holiday.
The best way to explain was to host a celebration at our house.
Turkey is not available year-round in Australia. When there are any available, it's not in frozen 25-lb plastic shrink-wrapped bundles with red pop-up pegs. In fact, turkey is an afterthought, sold in bits and pieces.
Nevertheless, we invited 14 people for the experience.
Steve, my Aussie husband, laughed at me when I asked where I could find a 25 lb. turkey.
“This is not America, love,” he said while cleaning his teeth with a bowie knife.
I called the local butcher.
'Could you get me a 25-lb turkey in a week or so?' I asked.
'Well...' Silence. Thinking that perhaps he didn't understand pounds, I explained that it's roughly 12.5 kilograms. He said he’d get back to me. His best effort was about half that size.
I also discovered that there's no Crisco, Jello-brand gelatin, mini-marshmallows, French-fried onions to top green bean casseroles, freshly bagged cranberries to make a sauce, or Cool Whip.
Guests arrived, bearing designated gifts of mashed potatoes and gravy, pre-dinner nibbles of cream-cheese stuffed celery, pitted green and black olives, deviled eggs with paprika, and wine and soft drinks. They watched me scurry around the kitchen and asked if I needed any help.
“Nope!” I said in my no-nonsense American accent. “Just talk to me and make me laugh.”
They did. Aussies are good for yarns.
Although I wasn’t able to pull off a genuine traditional Wallenborn family feast, I was happy. Laughter resonated in our home, and good-natured fun and camaraderie kept me smiling while waiting for the fowl to finish.
The beautifully browned bird came out of the oven and onto the counter-top to cheers. Steve, the carver, was met by his two teenage daughters’ queries, 'What is THAT?'
Because the fixins' couldn't fit on the table, the food lined up buffet style on counters. Hardly a scrap was left on the turkey, but nobody went hungry. It pleased me to hear 'mmmmm,' 'this is so good,' and requests for recipes strange to an Australian palate.
As the American in residence, I read a history of Thanksgiving. Because the lump in my throat was too big for me to speak, Steve read George Washington's proclamation of Thanksgiving Day.
Afterward, we gave thanks for anything on our minds. One guest was impressed with the idea of a nation setting aside one day every year to give thanks to God for His blessings, to remember their beginnings, and that the Australian Prime Minister would be wise to take notice.
Despite springtime rather than autumn weather and the absence of my family, that Thanksgiving ranks top in my memories.
I am thankful for new friends, a different country to live in and experience, and the love of my God who takes care of me no matter where I reside.
Psalm 139:9b-10, '...if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.'