The Thanksgiving holiday, or Thanksgiving, is one of the most popular dates in the United States, and this year is November 25 — although tradition has it that the anniversary always takes place on the fourth Thursday of November, ever since President Abraham Lincoln declared so in 1863.
But despite its importance in the United States, the date has practically no expression in Portugal. Except, of course, for the North Americans who reside in our country. This is the case of Merritt Murray, 26, currently volunteering in Portugal, who celebrates his first Thanksgiving outside the United States.
Bethany Shart, 38, emigrated to Portugal eight years ago and it was here that she built a family, and her daughters are already Portuguese and only celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States once.
MAGG spoke with the two North American women to understand how they continue to celebrate the day living in Portugal and what traditions they have maintained or adapted.
From Mississippi to Ramada
Merritt Murray is a native of Mississippi and came to Portugal alone in July this year. The pretext was the volunteer program carried out at the Greater Lisbon Christian Academy, an American Christian school where she teaches first and second cycle classes to children of different nationalities. this is the first Thanksgiving that passes in Portugal.
In the United States, Merritt graduated in Hospitality Management and worked in luxury hospitality. She has no official training in education to be a teacher, but this is not necessary in the project she is part of. “After the pandemic, it was difficult to be in this environment”, he says, referring to the hotel sector, which he ended up abandoning. “It’s a good break from my reality”, he confesses about the move to Portugal.
Passionate about Portugal, she came to the country for the first time in the summer of 2016, on an exchange program, to learn more about Portuguese culture, customs, language and religion. He participated in a basketball camp, where he made friends with several Portuguese people, and since then he has been returning to visit friends. “Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain friendships with an ocean separating us”, he vents, “but it’s not impossible”. At the moment, he is learning Portuguese with the help of a tutor, but he revealed to MAGG that he is still unable to have a conversation in this language.
Merritt explains that every American family has its own family traditions. Thanksgiving — sometimes they follow what is conventional to the letter, sometimes they adapt and create new ways to celebrate the day. Some play board games, others football. On this day, several football games (NFL, the National Football League, for example) are broadcast for sports fans.
Merritt’s mom loves creating memories in a fun way, so a few years ago she bought some funny Amazon t-shirts: each has a different dish. Thanksgiving. Since then, the tradition has held, and now every member of Merritt’s family proudly wears the t-shirt that reflects their favorite Thanksgiving dish on Thanksgiving Day. In Merritt’s case, it’s Mac ‘n Cheese. When he came to Portugal, he stuffed his life into four suitcases and, even so, he brought his t-shirt with him.
On a regular holiday, the family gets together, including Merritt’s four grandparents, and in the morning they watch the Thanksgiving parade at Macy’s (the American store that has held an annual parade to commemorate this day since 1924 and is broadcast on television). Once the parade was over, they started to prepare lunch which, on normal days, takes place around 11am, but on this day of gratitude it is at 2pm.
“It’s a huge meal,” says Merritt. In your family, they mix traditions and innovations. There is no lack of typical dishes at the table, such as puree and meat sauce, turkey, green beans, corn casserole, macaroni and cheese, blueberry muffins and cranberry jam (a kind of syrup with cranberries), which “nobody eats, but you have to be at the table every year,” jokes Merritt. For dessert, they exchange the conventional pecan and pumpkin pies for their grandmother’s Oreo dessert.
However, living in Portugal, Merritt is unable to attend these celebrations. Still, given the importance of the day, he will not fail to mark it — as this is his first Thanksgiving in Portugal. She is here alone, so she relies on other people’s initiatives for this occasion.
Last Sunday (21), he was at a lunch between Portuguese and Americans in Alvalade, as if a Thanksgiving anticipated. The celebration involved around 20 people and, during it, those involved ate traditional dishes and played trivia games about the Thanksgiving North American. “As American as we can get,” said Merritt.
But this Thursday, Merritt went with the school to Albufeira, as, until the end of the week, a conference is taking place. And youSince there is a large American nucleus present due to the event, the Hotel Alfagar, where they are staying, organized a Thanksgiving meal to mark the date.
In the evening, Merritt will video call the family when they are all together. “If I could just grab my family and bring them here, it would be the best life ever.” Her mother comes to visit her in Portugal in January. “People underestimate Portugal. It is a very calm country. People are so nice and friendly. They received me so well as someone who is obviously not Portuguese.”
Bethany has been in Portugal for 8 years. But Thanksgiving is sacred
Bethany Shart and her husband emigrated to Portugal in 2013. From New Orleans to Parque das Nações (with a stint at Lumiar), where they have lived for five years, it was a job opportunity that brought them here. Eight years have passed, and currently Bethany and Jonathan are professors at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Queluz. Bethany, 38, also teaches 1st cycle English at her daughters’ school.
The couple’s daughters were born in Portugal. “They’re alfacinhas”, the mother jokes. “And I often forget that they are more Portuguese than American”. Today the girls are 8 and 5 years old and have just passed the Thanksgiving in the United States once, when one was 3 years old and the other just months. It was on this trip to the land of their parents that they met their entire family, from uncles to more distant cousins.
The whole family comes together — not just each family unit, but around 50 people — to celebrate the day. That year, the four emigrants were able to participate in the party. They cooked the typical dishes and, at night, ate the leftovers. There is always a prayer and a time for everyone to express their gratitude.
Although they always intended to learn Portuguese culture, they never considered giving up certain American traditions — and the Thanksgiving is one of them. “We want to create a connection between our daughters and American culture”, Bethany guarantees, noting that they try to do the same with Portuguese culture. “On the Day of São Martinho, for example, we eat chestnuts”, he says.
In Portugal, in this family’s home, Thanksgiving is not just a day. They celebrate it throughout the entire month of November, starting on the 1st, a tradition Bethany has followed since she was a child. Now, with her daughters and her husband, every day they write various reasons for gratitude on a sheet of paper, which they hang on a tree. They take a few minutes to say thanks and this Thursday, Thanksgiving, they’re going to read all the reasons they have on the tree. “We are grateful for this country. It is always one of the first leaves on our tree.”
On this date, the couple’s daughters left school early to be able to have lunch at home and celebrate the date with their parents and family friends. They saw the Macy’s fashion show in New York and also the movie “Charlie Brown and Thanksgiving”. They enjoyed a pumpkin afternoon and, later, will make a video call with the rest of the family, who are all together in the United States to celebrate the day.
Last weekend (20th and 21st), they also celebrated the day with Portuguese people. They cooked traditional food for over 20 people, and desserts were popular with children. The famous “dressing” was compared to açorda and there was no lack of puree, sweet potatoes or green beans.
While comparisons can be drawn to Christmas, Bethany clarifies that Thanksgiving is different for the better. While at Christmas only the family unit gathers, the Thanksgiving brings the whole family together. And, for Bethany, Christmas turns out to revolve a lot around the consumerism of gifts, and “there is a lot of hurry”. “O Thanksgiving it is one of the only holidays where there is no urge to buy. Just the food.”
At this moment, Bethany and Jonathan are asking for Portuguese citizenship. “For us, this is our home. We have no plans to return,” exclaims Bethany. The family has only visited the United States twice since the girls were born (one of them to celebrate the Thanksgiving) and when they are away, “they miss Portugal”, says Bethany, about how their daughters feel when they visit their family, yet they participate with great enthusiasm in this Thanksgiving celebration.