A twist on my traditional Thanksgiving meal inspired by local ingredients.
Every year that I spend Thanksgiving abroad, it’s always a new and unique experience. Sometimes we celebrate it with a big group of people and other times it’s just my husband and me celebrating it together. Regardless, it is still a good celebration. Since my husband is from Europe, our focal point for Thanksgiving is really about reflecting and giving thanks. Thinking about all that we have to be thankful for. Undoubtedly, there is always so much to be thankful for.
Also I was inspired to create a Thanksgiving meal based off of the local ingredients in Jerusalem. Instead of using butter and herbs for my turkey, I used labneh (a thick, strained, creamy yogurt) and za’atar (a blend of spices found commonly throughout the Middle East and North Africa). For my stuffing, traditionally I would prepare a cornbread stuffing, but this year I used “Jerusalem Bagels.” They are very long (nearly three or four times the length of a traditional “American bagel,” the texture is softer and they are coated with sesame seeds. It’s very common to see vendors selling them throughout the Old City and I have a favorite bakery just beyond Damascus Gate that sells them hot and fresh.
Preparing this meal reminded me of my first Thanksgiving abroad in New Zealand. I went searching everywhere for turkey only to finally “settle” for a sushi feast (not a bad Thanksgiving option if you ask me). It was not what traditional according to what I would consider traditional, but it was a nice change.
What I’ve learned about celebrating Thanksgiving and other holidays abroad is:
Change Can Be Good: It doesn’t have to look exactly like your typical celebration and that’s okay. It brings you back into awareness that you are in a new culture.
Going Local is Best: In terms of buying ingredients, local ingredients are the way to go. It’s true that you probably will not find a local equivalent for everything on your list but you can find something else that is equally (if not more) delicious. Plus, going local is more environmentally friendly, supports the local economy and is much friendlier on your wallet.
Expand Your Celebration: Invite others to experience a feast. Last year I had the privilege of inviting many guests to our house. I was cooking all day long and it was so rewarding to see so many people gathered and just having a great time. Our group represented nearly 10 different countries.
Everyday is Thanksgiving day.
Everyday is Thanksgiving day. As cheesy as that may sound, it is true in the spirit of celebrating the holiday as a day of truly giving thanks for all that you have. Today and everyday, I always have many things to be grateful for and I am sure if you’re reading this right now, then you do too. Thanks for reading. Remember you are loved, you are cherished, you are unique and special.
Although it is said that the exact location of the Garden of Gethsemane is unknown, there are many reasons that point to this location being the most likely location of where it would have been.
The Garden of Gethsemane was full of olive trees and the literal translation actually means “olive press.” The olives that were harvested from this garden were pressed to make olive oil that was of such high quality that it was reserved for kings. Is it any wonder that this is where Jesus was praying the night before His crucifixion? He was about to be pressed like these olives for the sins of all mankind.
Today, if you choose to visit the Garden of Gethsemane (which I highly recommend if you are visiting Jerusalem, it is worth it), then you will still find a garden of olive trees* that are indeed thousands of years old.
There is also a church called the “Church of All Nations” or Basilica of the Agony. It is absolutely stunning. From the outside, the large columns protrude from the building and a large colorful painting covers the top front part of the church building. You can look up at it but I definitely recommend crossing the street to get a better view.
At the entrance, there is a sculpture of an olive tree constructed from iron that you can’t miss as you enter the church. As I walked in the church I was in awe of the beautiful purple stained glass windows, the colorful array of mosaics and the massive dome that is the canvas to even more elaborate paintings.
The church is dark inside for the purpose of remembering that this is the Garden of Gethsemane. It was here that Jesus prayed in such deep sorrow before He was handed over to be crucified. The Word describes it best.
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Matthew 26:36-46
This was definitely worth visiting and I am so grateful that I got to visit it in person. If you have the opportunity and you’re interested, I would definitely add this as a place to visit.
*Factoid: olive trees can live and produce fruit for literally thousands of years. Ponder: could some of these trees been the same trees that existed when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane.