A Traveler's Thanksgiving Tradition: Wherever, Whenever

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A Traveler’s Thanksgiving Tradition: Wherever, Whenever

Our Spanish villa is abuzz with excited energy. Josiah is sweeping our glazed terracotta veranda. Hannah is wiping up the table and clearing breakfast dishes. Jeremiah keeps peeking into the fridge to make sure my pumpkin pies are still there. Hadassah is busily coloring a card ”for Mama” with lots of secrets and pleadings that I do not peek. Julia is helping to feed Hosea. Joshua and Hosanna are knocking around a soccer ball. Jeriah, our baby-man, is sleeping peacefully with a fan blowing near. Fresh rays of sunshine beam down upon him through the large window in our cheery bedroom.

Life is good, and we have so many reasons to give thanks. So, on this bright day at the end of May, we are celebrating American Thanksgiving–complete with turkey, stuffing and all the fixins– exactly six months early. What’s a date anyway?

Traveler's Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving Tradition is Born, Virginia Style


Thanksgiving in Virginia

Josiah with his 90 year-old great grandfather on the Virginia farm where I grew up celebrating Thanksgiving

Our Pilgrims

Our Pilgrims

Native Americans

Our children dress as Native Americans in Hawaii.

Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday since I was a little girl. I am sure the excitement began as a result of both my grandfather and me sharing a special connection. We were each born on Thanksgiving Day, November 28th. As a child, he and I always celebrated our birthday surrounded by most of my extended family. We would gather at my grandparents’ Virginia farm on the James River. Following the Thanksgiving feast, we would race to blow out our candles with a ONE-TWO-BLOW!

Thanksgiving with a Filipino-Southern Fusion

Eight years ago in the Philippines, I was only days away from delivering Hadassah. Our family was establishing new traditions. It was the first Thanksgiving in our marriage without being with my extended family. I had a little touch of homesickness and a LOT of culture shock. It was at least 175 degrees in the shade, I think. The six other children were ages seven and under: three in diapers; one potty training.

Thanksgiving arrived. Despite having brown outs (repeated on-again-off-again power outages) and no oven in our tiny home, we were determined to celebrate it. Two days later we would be moving to a spacious farm house, but none of that deterred us from creating a Thanksgiving meal.

Brent and the children fully surprised me with a cute cake made at the local bakery. They drew a turkey, and the baker (despite his unfamiliarity with the North American bird) tried to copy it. Since I had no turkey or oven, we hired our driver to drive across town and purchase some Filipino chicken adobo (marinated in soy sauce and vinegar). I rinsed off the poor chicken and reheated it making a Southern chicken gravy to turn that bird into a Virginia Turkey.

I managed to find a calabasa (a Filipino squash) , the closest thing to a pumpkin we could find in Metro Manila. It did double duty as pie filling and as a sweet potato casserole. Underneath that brown sugar, honey, pecans and marshmallows, no one knew the difference. I used green mangoes and created hot “apple sauce”. I delightedly found real potatoes, mashed them and poured brown butter on top.  The Filipino sitaw was the nearest equivalent for green beans, a foot long and thinner. I cut them to size for Southern green beans, and we were in business.

We covered our shipping containers with a Thanksgiving tablecloth, one we have used every year of our married life.

Turkey Cake

The birthday cake Brent and the children surprised me with. I was days away from delivering Hadassah.


Typhoon flooded streets in the Philippines.

A North American Thanksgiving…In July

About eight months later, we were in Baguio, the mountainous vacation capital of the Philippines. Decades of unchecked growth left the city disappointingly crowded and polluted. Roaring  jeepneys spewed diesel smoke through the narrow, hilly streets. Typhoon season had hit with a vengeance, bringing constant rain.

One unforgettable discovery brightened our outlook. We found a store that had formerly catered to the nearly non-existent American military presence. We were elated.

Up front, they sold balut, a cooked-in-shell duck embryo, a well-known delicacy. In the back, they sold frozen turkeys. Fat ones. They had cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and everything an American could dream of for a real Thanksgiving. We took the plunge and decided to buy it all while we could.

We went back to our vacation cottage situated on a quiet and green hill and created an unforgettable, dreamy family Thanksgiving in July. It was chilly enough in the mountains that we even lit a fire in the fireplace. We had a wonderful family day.

Turkey Leg in the Philippines

Turkey Leg in the Philippines

The Missed Thanksgiving, a la Mexicana

Last November, we flat out missed Thanksgiving. We could have paid $30 US per person to go and eat Thanksgiving with a bunch of expats down at the beach club. But $30 per person?!

I had already accepted the reality that turkeys were not being sold anywhere in Manzanillo. A chicken would be fine. I was traveling with one can of cranberry sauce I stowed away last year. The well-stocked small store across the street promised that a supply of canned pumpkin was going to be arriving the following week. Good news. What is Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie? We could wait a week and celebrate then.

The week came and went, but the promised pumpkin did not arrive. Three more days, the owner assured. Three days later, we were told that the pumpkin was coming, but it was on the truck scheduled for next week. We had already waited ten days, another week would not matter.

We waited. No pumpkin. No pumpkin ever came, not the following week either. By then, Christmas was arriving and we realized that Thanksgiving was missed for want of a pie.  Well, a pie and a turkey.

Thanksgiving Feast

Our Thanksgiving feast in May.

Thanksgiving Buffet

Thanksgiving at our villa buffet style.

Thanksgiving Buffet

Little ones serving themselves at our family Thanksgiving celebration

Down-home Thanksgiving, South of the Border

Today, in the month of May, our little family of eleven celebrates Thanksgiving in our villa here in Jocotepec, Mexico. We celebrate because today we can. That’s one of the lessons we have learned on the road. The Lake Chapala area of Mexico is home to over 25,000 North Americans and Canadians. Here, thanks to enterprising local Mexican stores like Super Lake, we have access to all that Americans wish for.

We found a turkey, canned pumpkin, stuffing ingredients, cranberry sauce, apples, olives, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower (mashed cauliflower is our new preference to mashed potatoes). We also found  Häagen-Daz vanilla bean ice cream to top off the pies.

Turkey, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and (especially) cranberry sauce are most definitely NOT easily available around the world. I mean, face it, cranberry sauce really does not blend in with Filipino pansit, pad thai, or street vendor tacos. It’s strictly a North American acquired taste.

Thanksgiving Dance

A Thanksgiving dance out on our veranda because a day as special as this must be fully celebrated.

Y´all Come

Today I am cookin’ up a storm. The tables are adorned with country vases (Southern for any empty glass bottle) filled with handpicked, tropical flowers. My pies are making the house smell heavenly. The children keep asking for ”just one” more small taste of ice cream.

Sweet potatoes are adorned, the stuffin’ fixins are chopped and the sausage is scrambled. I always toss in a few chopped boiled eggs into my stuffin’ ‘cuz that’s how my grandmother (Nannie) did hers. Of course, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. My green beans are simmering with small bit of tomatoes and plenty of bacon; bacon is what makes ém so good. I won’t be serving greens (collard and turnip greens) this year, but with all of this food they won’t be missed.

I have cranberry sauce chillin’ in the fridge beside the butter I shaped into a turkey. That will be sopped up with hot-from-the-oven poppy seed dinner rolls. A pretty bird is ready to be lifted from the oven. It’s a turkey; a real turkey. An actual turkey… and that’s why we are having this year’s Thanksgiving celebration in May.


Thanksgiving Plate


Baby's 1st Thanksgiving

Baby’s First Thanksgiving where he had more than nursing on the menu.

Thanksgiving Blow Guns

Growing up, we had a test of family marksmanship using a riffle. In our traveling family we show off our skills with homemade bows, arrows, and blow guns.

It doesn’t get better than this.

Now that our family has observed Thanksgiving for the year, we will likely be off snorkeling come November or hiking in the Amazon while the rest of our American friends are just pulling autumn dishes from an oven.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Inion crew–wherever and whenever you may be celebrating!

A Traveler's Thanksgiving

A Traveler’s Thanksgiving


Brent and Stacey-jean Inion
Brent and Stacey-jean Inion
Brent and Stacey-jean Inion, parents of nine (including four children adopted with special needs), 2014 National Geographic Travelers of the Year and the National Geographic Travelers People's Choice Travelers of the Year. They love to laugh, to read and to explore as a family. The secret to their marital bliss is an early morning cup of freshly brewed coffee before the children awake.


  1. Alyson says:

    I really enjoyed reading that, thanks! Beautiful pictures too. It’s got me thinking, I need to write something about all the makeshift Christmases we’ve had around he world . In the 12 years Chef and I have been married I don’t think we had a “normal” one. He, of course, works Christmas day, busiest day of the year. Then we had a Christmas in Vietnam, one in India, 1 in the UK in a borrowed apartment with no bathroom, 1 in the UK with no kitchen ( we used a BBQ), many in Australia, where it never felt right to be in the pool when we should be round the fire and now this one in Romania. I’m starting to worry that I won’t be able to get a Christmas pudding, I used to make them but figuring out the Romanian word for everything, and suet, I bet they don’t have suet here, was just a big headache. But we’ll be good for turkey, cranberry sauce…not sure. Plenty of sprouts, parsnips, all the veg will be fine, stuffing, again, not sure, but I can make that from scratch. Bread sauce, I can make. Sausages are good here, bacon is just OK. Yep, this will work! In RomaniaI think they have a cold buffet on Christmas day, we’ll be finding out anyway. Cheers!

    • Brent and Stacey-jean Inion says:

      I love that! Yes, those makeshifts Christmases will be the best memories ever, one day. Let me know when you have that post up. I would love to read it. Of course, you have me reflecting on some of ours. Like the time we were broke on the beach in Mexico. We saved just enough to get snorkels for the kids. That Christmas morning was the BEST snorkeling of our lives. Merry Christmas from France.

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