On a crisp fall morning in Merrick—the cozy Long Island suburb that committee member, Colette Heefner, calls home—I, like many other travel committee members, woke up in an inexplicably excited daze. After a whirlwind day of trudging over-packed luggage across the globe, we finally made it to New York and were comfortably settled in the spacious upstairs of Collette’s family home.
As I lay in bed at an ungodly hour of the morning, my emotions ran wild. Sleep deprivation both intensified lingering school stress and, at the same time, ignited an overflowing surge of excitement within me. Today was our first day in New York, and it wasn’t just any ordinary day; Today was Thanksgiving. To kick-off our very wild very American week ahead, Colette’s parents had graciously offered to cook us Thanksgiving dinner. What better way to cure our slumberous, jet-lagged souls than to eat mounds of mouth-watering turkey?
Dinner was expected to be ready by late afternoon and, in the meantime, the gang kept busy in a variety of ways. We started off by eating breakfast over the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In other words, we watched chilly city-dwellers parade along New York’s busy shopping district as gargantuan balloons cascaded behind while we sat, just a train ride away, munching on blueberry muffins and inhaling newly brewed coffee in the comfort of the Heefner house. It was great.
After this, some decided to catch up on school and the rest us decided to stroll around and check out the neighborhood with Colette’s family dog, Bailey. As we powered through the warm fall leaves, we couldn’t help but appreciate the beautifully decorated brick-façade houses around us—each with their own special way of expressing their love for this very colorful season.
When we returned the Heefner abode, Colette’s mother and father were busy at work in the kitchen, cooking up some magic and forbidding us from lending a helping hand. Shortly after, we were joined by Colette’s family and loved ones. To pass the time we watched American football, ate addictive hors d’oeuvres, drank the Heefner’s traditional fruit punch and, of course, engaged in lively political discussions. It was a proper UPF outing: good food, great company, and a whole lot of political debate.
Several helping of Brie and crackers and red-solo cups of punch later, we were swept into the dinning room to be seated and served. Colette’s mother came running back and forth in a whirlwind motion, agilely placing the food on the table. The dishes were endless: turkey and gravy and stuffing and string beans and creamed mushroom and mashed potatoes galore; A diverse array of dishes that, when combined in your palate, created the perfect concoction of salty, savory and sweet. My personal favorites were the baked sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows (an incredibly sweet American tradition) and the gourmet sweet potato tortellini, which practically melted between your teeth at first bite.Long story short, the food was phenomenal. And the conversation just as great.
The dinner table topics were just as rich and assorted as the platters of food sprawled across on the long mahogany table. All issues under the sun were brought up around the table. However, the topic that was most memorable for me was dissecting the tradition of thanksgiving. As we learned that day, Thanksgiving is a day for expressing one’s gratitude. Of course, this is something we should practice year-round. But, for many like myself, this isn’t always an easy task. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of everyday life and to take for granted all the privileges we’re given.
Putting a pause on life and dedicating a whole day to remembering all that i’m thankful for, therefore, was something that really resonated with me. This is what really made this Thanksgiving dinner special. What better way to start our trip than to give thanks to everyone and everything that had allowed us to be there that day—to Colette’s family and friends, to our own loved ones, to UPF to Sweden, and so on.
As we took in the moment and chewed on everything around us, it was safe to say that there was one thing that we were all very grateful for: to be on this trip, here and together in New York.
Written by: Alexandra Cooper