By Corey Close
As we all know, November is best known for its biggest holiday: Thanksgiving, which takes on a whole new angle when living as a foreigner in Rome. Thanksgiving weekend has three major traditions here at the North American College in Rome that certainly makes it special. First is Thanksgiving Day itself, second is a comedy show we put on called the Old Man-New Man Show on Saturday, and third is a flag-football game on Sunday called the Spaghetti Bowl.
The Thanksgiving meal is served at lunchtime for us and it’s a big shindig, although it isn’t anything like I remember growing up. In Italy, meals are served in courses and the second course is meat. That’s when we get turkey and all the fixings. To Italians, though, no meal is complete without pasta; Thanksgiving is no exception. As I am sure you can imagine, having pasta on Thanksgiving adds a strange flavor to the tradition! At the end of the meal comes the next great tradition: the eating of pumpkin pies! We make the pies ourselves since Italian cuisine does not include pies. It’s a special, once-a-year treat! When the pies arrive, a band sings a song, such as “I believe in the pie,” a parody of the song, “I believe I can fly.”
On Saturday night we have the Old Man-New Man Show. The New Men are first-year students at the college and they put on a comedy show of their own making, followed by a show produced by the Old Men (all of the other students). The next day comes the Spaghetti Bowl, which is a flag-football game pitting the Old Men against the New Men. The Old Men usually win, so it is always exciting when the underdog New Men can pull off a victory. The event is coupled with a good old-fashioned American cookout, with juicy burgers and brats to go around!
The weekend is great, but celebrating it here in Europe definitely gives the holiday a new feeling, and I have found it to be the toughest holiday living here. Christmas and Easter are celebrated by the rest of Europe, but Thanksgiving is a uniquely American experience. I feel the loneliness of being a foreigner in a foreign land celebrating a holiday that no one else has heard of.
But the lesson I’ve learned from this, that has helped prepare me for the priesthood, is that none of us truly has a home on this earth. All of us are sojourners away from our true homeland, our homeland in heaven. The experience I’ve felt of being a foreigner among people who call this place home, should be our experience as Catholics, even in our home towns. I will be an “exile” in this country for around five years, but all of us experience a sort of exile on this earth from the moment we’re born to the moment we die. We’re not meant to stay here. The places in which we live now are merely temporary residences, for perhaps 70 or 80 years, before we are called to our homeland which will never pass away.
I hope and pray all of you have a blessed Thanksgiving this year, and if you’re with family and friends, and in a place you call home, I would ask you to be especially thankful for that. And remember all those people in your prayers who are not with family or are not at home; remember that Christ is constantly calling us to our true homeland, which lies in him alone.
(Corey Close is a third-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)