A Chinese Thanksgiving, by Lisa McClure

Lisa McClure adopted her daughter Lara in 1996. In early 1999, she and Lara returned China to gain a deeper understanding of the land and the people while Lara learns to live the life of a typical girl of her age in China. Lisa is a teacher of Liaoning Institue of Technology in Jinzhou, Northeast of the China. Lisa has shared her stories of their adventures in Lisa McClure’s Diary.

Lisa and Lara just celebrated their first Thanksgiving in China. Lisa contributes a part of her diary describing this celebration to ChinaSprout’s visitors.

I started thinking about the holiday season a long while ago, and wondered how we should celebrate such a traditional holiday as Thanksgiving, in a country where roast turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce are completely unknown.

But I realized that Thanksgiving is really about being together with your family and close friends, and sharing good food and fun together. I do miss my family and friends back home, but I definitely wanted to share this special day with some of my friends here in Jinzhou. Besides, I'm not that fond of traditional Thanksgiving food. I really do prefer Chinese food. So, it was a very easy decision for me to choose to invite some of our friends to help us celebrate our first Thanksgiving with a traditional Chinese banquet in a private room at a local banquet restaurant.

Few people in China have homes large enough to entertain large groups in, so it is very popular to entertain in restaurants. Nearly all restaurants have at least one private room for these sorts of private parties, and each private room is almost always guaranteed to have a karaoke system, because singing is so popular here.

My first task upon arrival, as hostess, was to select the menu for our meal. One of my students, Allen, helped me with this. I selected many items that I have eaten before and like very much. I also selected a dish called Basi Digua, which is sweet potatoes in a candy coating, because it seemed appropriate for Thanksgiving. Allen also helped me select some other dishes that we thought we would go well with the meal. In all, we selected 13 dishes, including the grand fish that is de rigeur for any Chinese banquet.

While I was ordering, the kids were having a great time singing karaoke. The three older ones are all almost exactly the same age, 4 1/2 now, and they were belting the songs out with lots of enthusiasm, if a bit off key. In fact, they took over the karaoke system during the early part of the evening, and we were all treated to multiple renditions of a very popular children's song, Mama Hao, along with other favorite tunes.

Then the food started to come, and we all sat down and enjoyed the meal. At Chinese banquets, it's traditional to enjoy many toasts throughout the meal. I keep trying, but I still haven't gotten the hang of this. I often get so involved eating and chatting with my neighbors that I forget to toast, and even when I remember, I usually can't think of anything very inspiring to say. But we were a comfortable group, because we mostly all knew each other well, and I think everybody had a good time.

Lara had a great time, too, practicing her gymnastics on the carpet. She keeps improving at an amazing rate, and last night was beginning to turn some very creditable cartwheels. I know that she enjoyed having friends her own age to play with. Sometime during the singing, I slipped out, and with Steven's help paid for our party. I really didn't have much idea of what it would cost to feed 18 people (plus one baby) Thanksgiving dinner, though I did know that Allen had been very frugal with the ordering. But it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the total bill, including lots of beer and juice, came to only 350 yuan. ($43 U.S) Course, I don't earn nearly as much as I did back in the States, but I still feel that I got a great amount of fun and food for my money.


To read Lisa’s complete article about her Thanksgiving Day in China and her complete diary, click here.