I can’t say I ever thought I would one day celebrate Thanksgiving in Athens. Or, for that matter, that I would ever watch Greek high schoolers doing an interpretive dance of the settlers trying to learn to grow corn. That said, now that both of these things have actually happened, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
The week of Thanksgiving, I prepared a special lesson for my students on the history of the holiday. In planning this lesson, I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to teach them the real history of Thanksgiving, and the atrocities and bloodshed to which we subjected the Native Americans before and after the first Thanksgiving. I finally decided that for a forty-minute class period, it just wasn’t worth it.
So here’s what I decided to do. I wrote a very simple account of the first Thanksgiving, with four short paragraphs in total. I had the kids read it in class, and helped them with all the necessary vocabulary words— “pilgrims,” “Native Americans,” and such.
Next, I asked the kids to divide up in groups based on whether they liked singing, acting, drawing or dancing best. Once they were divided, I assigned each group a paragraph… to represent through their chosen medium!
The result was as follows. The first group were the actors, and they had to perform the part of the story where the settlers began in England, left because of religious persecution, and sailed across the ocean to find the new world.
The second group were the dancers, and had to represent the first hard winter and Squanto showing them how to grow corn and survive. There was lots of swaying–I think that part was the corn blowing in the wind!
The third group had the first Thanksgiving celebration, and this was their artistic rendition of the event. (I’m not exactly sure why there’s someone eating a cheeseburger on the far right, but I always welcome cheeseburger allusions in the classroom!)
And lastly, the singing group chose to represent their part, on modern Thanksgiving, through rap. I give you the musical stylings of Kiki and Rafael!
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The kids had a blast… and I did too! It was a great lesson and we all had a good, silly, ridiculous time. Those of you who have done AmeriCorps may recognize this activity—I got it from my training in Seattle!
For the actual holiday, all the Fulbrighters were invited to the Thanksgiving dinner at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. On Thursday morning, I arrived by plane in Athens to find a metro strike lasting for exactly the hours I needed the metro to be working. After a frenzied half hour trying to find the next best alternative, I took a bus downtown to meet my friend and fellow Fulbrighter Dallas, who had offered up his couch for the weekend. We headed over to dinner at around 3:30.
It was so nice to see everyone again, and as we all took our places amidst the autumn-colored decorations, it finally felt like Thanksgiving! It’s an odd thing to celebrate a holiday unique to your country while you live in a different one. Outside of that little room, it was just another day in Greece; a sunny, seventy-degree day!
The food was fantastic—perfectly-cooked turkey, amaaazing stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, yams, cranberry sauce, delicious wine, and pumpkin pie! Lucky for me, Dallas didn’t want his piece, so I got two pieces of pumpkin pie after my three helpings of everything else! It really did feel like Thanksgiving, and not just because of my intense food coma—I found myself feeling even more thankful than usual, as my company was made up of others who are in the same wonderful, bizarre, intensely difficult and intensely rewarding situation as I am, and that familiarity (any familiarity) is something to be thankful for, in addition to being thankful for the lack of familiarity at the same time. I realized that the other Fulbrighters, the Fulbright staff, and my friends and colleagues at AFS are truly my lifelines here, and I’m incredibly thankful to have them all in my life!
After the dinner, we all went out for a round of crappy beers (I still maintain that the lack of good beer is the greatest flaw with Greece. I certainly enjoy the excellent wine and ouzo here, but I can’t wait to finally wallow in my beer snobbery back home at Christmas!). It was great to hear about everyone’s projects and how they are going—in particular, Georgia is doing a nutrition project in Crete, and her accounts of going into villages and interviewing residents on their diets was fascinating. Apparently the popular belief is that four shots of raki per day is the key to longevity!
All in all, it was a great Thanksgiving in Greece. The next day I headed to Rhodes for further adventures in solo travel–stay tuned for a post recounting my adventures!