I enjoyed two amazing Thanksgiving dinners while studying in Turkey last fall, though turkey was not served at either. My flatmates and I decided early on that semester, with a few other Americans, that we had to host a proper Thanksgiving dinner for our Turkish and other international friends, who had never experienced Thanksgiving before. The friends I made while studying in Istanbul are some of the best I have ever had, so we were very excited to share this celebration with them. We had only one problem. We didn’t have an oven.
Until the very week of Thanksgiving, our kitchen appliances consisted of a refrigerator and a hotplate. For two and a half months, we survived with these appliances alone, with a large oven-sized hole in our kitchen. Sometime in late October, our oven was finally delivered, but then it sat uninstalled in our hallway for a month, mocking us.
Needless to say, we all rejoiced at having an oven. My three roommates baked tons of cookies, and I made soft pretzels. It was wonderful. On Turkey Day, I spent the afternoon exploring Sultanhamet, the old town of Istanbul, with famous landmarks such as The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (easily the most magnificent building I have ever seen). I explored Sultanhamet with two friends, Dan, a fellow American, and Aweinaash (Avi), who is from the Netherlands. Our kitchen was rather small, so my roommate and I left the cooking to our other two flatmates. I was happy to contribute by buying ingredients and staying out of the way.
Dan, Avi, and I eventually made our way back to our apartment, where we set the long improvised table. It was really one small table and three desks stretching from the dining nook into the living room. We decorated the room with paper turkeys, bouquets of flowers in recycled bottles, and strands of (rather expensive) Christmas lights. To top it all off, on the lamp over the living room we hung a mask of revered Turkish military hero and founder of the modern Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Soon our guests arrived, and a seemingly endless amount of food began covering every surface from the kitchen to the living room. Well over two dozen of us crammed around our makeshift dinner table and had a fantastic meal followed by a plethora of desserts: some Turkish, some American, some German, and some Swedish. It was so great to bring together little bits of all our traditions into one celebration.
Later, after everything was cleaned up, we sat for hours listening to and playing music, playing games, and hanging out. While it was far different from any of the Thanksgivings I’d ever celebrated with my family in New Jersey, nothing will ever compare to my Thanksgiving in Turkey, with my international family.