Last updated: 03:30 PM ET, Thu December 03 2015

An Intercultural Brazilian Thanksgiving

Features & Advice | Carson Poplin | December 03, 2015

An Intercultural Brazilian Thanksgiving

Photos by Carson Poplin

I’ve become no stranger to spending holidays away from home. I spent Thanksgiving this year in Brazil, missing my family’s celebration for the third year in a row. So I decided I was going to do it big, even if I was in another country.

I’m living in an apartment in Rio with six other girls about my age as we participate in a six-week program to learn about social enterprises and, obviously, do a lot of sightseeing. I happened to be the only American of the group and each time I brought up Thanksgiving dinner, the others, who hailed from England, Belgium, Australia, Poland and New Zealand, thought celebrating Thanksgiving in Rio was an adorable idea. Or they were just humoring me. Either way, they were on board with the idea of having a multicultural celebration.

We invited everyone we knew in Rio. We divided up the food preparations amongst ourselves and, as the American, I was in charge of the turkey. But I’ve never cooked a turkey before. I’ve spent most of my Thanksgivings as my mother’s sous chef, and all of a sudden everyone was looking to me as the authority on all things Thanksgiving. I was stuck.

So I did what anyone would do in this situation and ordered turkey from a local restaurant. Twice as much as we would need. And a pumpkin pie, for good measure.

Then, with those Thanksgiving staples out of the way, I decided to play my ace: I made it my mission to find grits so I could treat my foreign friends to a true taste of the South.

Turns out, it’s hard to get grits in Brazil. I Googled and asked around for weeks ahead of time, but my search yielded nothing. Then, a few days before Thanksgiving, our program leader surprised me with grits that she’d secretly asked her family to bring along when they came to visit for the week.

It was a fine example that if you fret and hound enough people about what you want, everything will work out in the end.

I made shrimp and grits (according to a recipe I had to call my mother to get) and the rest of the group brought along sweet potatoes, green beans, roasted potatoes, deviled eggs, corn, zucchini and a few Brazilian dishes thrown in.

Before we ate, everyone looked to me to ask what the protocol was before digging in. I told them that, according to American custom, we had to say the Declaration of Independence backward to summon the ghost of George Washington. For a tiny second, I think they thought I was serious.

Instead, we went around the table and said what we were most thankful for in that moment. We were thankful to be in Rio. We were thankful to have a view of Sugarloaf from the apartment. We were thankful for having met each other. And we were thankful that the idea of being thankful transcends cultures and countries.

After we ate, we ended the night the only appropriate way for Brazil, by samba dancing. 

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