On Saturday I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for twelve. Yes, in May and the whole deal: turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts, stuffing, pumpkin pies. We had four Americans, one Senegalese, two Italians, five Brazilians. They were all scientists and except for the Americans, just here visiting. I figured that most of them would not have had Thanksgiving and that it would be fun for them. I was right on both accounts.
It was very different hosting Thanksgiving in May. For one thing, I think I could have actually hunted and bagged a wild turkey in the time it took me to find a frozen one. Of course I called around first.
“A turkey?” Voices filled with disbelief, incredulity; one guy even sounded outraged.
Every single store I called asked me this—as if I had said, “Do you have any frozen babies?”
As I sat there calling grocery stores, I realized I could have made a much simpler dinner. But there was part of me that wanted to prove to these distinguished foreigners that in spite of our gun violence, racial inequality, and Supreme Court leaks, that the soul of America is essentially good. I would prove this with one turkey dinner.
What I didn’t count on was finding out that the souls of most people are essentially good and the spirit of Christmas lives on all year—if we look for it.
It started with the trickle of guests arriving, each one bringing a gift. Very Three Kings.
The Senegalese scientist brought a bottle of roasted Senegalese peanuts. Peanuts in a wine bottle—genius! You could shake some out in your hand or in a gesture of friendship, pour some into your neighbor’s hand. Delicious—and like gold!
The Brazilians brought a beautiful box of fragrant soaps made from Amazonian plants. They explained that this soap was made only from vegetable ingredients and promised smooth and moisturized skin. The fragrant aromatics—frankincense and myrrh!
The Italians brought confetto, Italian sugared almonds, that, they explained, were used for very important occasions, “And this,” they said, “is a very important occasion.” They also brought ciambelline which are adorable little cookies to dip in red wine. We could have Communion by intinction right at the dinner table!
The Americans brought a deck planter filled with beautiful flowers. (They didn’t have to think about what could fit in a suitcase.) I immediately placed it on the deck railing over a bird-poop spot that I missed while pressure washing. Elegant.
Since we were blessed with a window of sunny weather, we had the doors and windows open. Instead of boughs of holly and cedar, tulips and Stargazer lilies decorated the house. Only a few coats to hang, most of them light. We gathered on our deck for appetizers and drinks. We could smell the turkey from the deck. It was strange and wonderful.
Then the turkey was done “resting” and I brought it out for all to see. (Okay, this really was a bit like showing off a baby.) Then we all took our seats, I said a blessing and the eating commenced. The air was filled with the smell of turkey, lilies, and soap; and the sounds of English, Portuguese, Italian and French.
I suddenly understood that these people, these “Magi” were not just bringing “hostess” gifts, but scientists using their own gifts to help the world. That is the spirit of Christmas right there: bringing Light to the world in any you can.
But wait! With every Christmas story there is a miracle, right?
During dessert, one of the Americans told us the story of her husband who was trying very hard to get his citizenship. His path had been rocky; so many documents, so much bureaucracy. He was going for his interview on Monday and would I keep them both in my prayers? Of course!
Just as miraculous: we have a few leftovers. For which we are grateful.