Mission Thanksgiving Meals

November 22, 2007 | 39 comments
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Here’s a post for your afternoon stupor. What were your mission Thanksgiving meals like? Tell us in the comments.

Adam Greenwood:

Our first mission Thanksgiving was the day we arrived in Spain. We were excited about getting our first taste of Spanish food, but Hermana Lopez had made us turkey and mashed potatoes, and done very well at it. She even told us proudly that she’d managed to make ‘that typical American meat salsa,’ which turned out to be gravy from a mix. One of us fell asleep during the meal from jet lag.

My second Thanksgiving the four of us bought a couple of roasters. We didn’t know how to make stuffing but we had an idea that sage played into Thanksgiving somehow, so we bought a bunch of sage at the farmers market and stuffed the roasters with it. We put them into cook and went out tracting. When we came back at mediodia the chickens were as hard, dry, and fibrous as sagebrush, and they tasted like it too. No one had more than a bite or two. Our apartment stank of sage for a few days after.

Ardis Parshall:

Grenoble, France. Thanksgiving, 1982. Six hard-working but somewhat homesick missionaries wanted Thanksgiving dinner. Since only the two sisters had ever done much cooking (and I think I was the only one of the two of us who had ever done a Thanksgiving dinner for a whole family), we decided to have a district dinner at our apartment — with the table set in the doorway so the elders could sit out in the wide stone hallway while we sisters sat at the inside edge. Mission rules, you know!

The turkey was the big thing, of course, but — also of course — it wasn’t Thanksgiving in France, with Butterballs neatly frozen in grocery cases. We couldn’t find a whole bird anywhere and finally settled for smaller turkey pieces, which we roasted on top of stuffing spread out in a quiche pan. (Come Christmas, we were able to find a whole turkey at a butcher shop but I had to ask the butcher to take the head off. “Yes, the head and the neck. And the feet, please. No, I won’t be making soup. Thank you so much.”)

As I recall, we had potatoes fixed three different ways so that everybody could have their own family’s traditional way. I baked rolls, and my companion made a “pumpkin” pie (we started from scratch, stewing squash). I don’t think we had cranberry. Must have had some green vegetable. I think everybody was happy with the dinner, and after those few hours of being lonely American kids grateful for our families and our church culture and our country and shared traditions, we went back to work trying to find people who were willing to listen to the part of our gratitude that we had to share with them.

I loved France and the French, and ordinarily tried to buy and eat as our neighbors did — what’s the fun of being in a foreign culture if you don’t? — but Thanksgiving and Christmas, two little days out of a very long year, you want to be at home, with your family, with everything familiar and traditional and seemingly permanent. It won’t be permanent, at least not without long years with at least a few empty chairs, but someday everybody will be home and together again. That assurance is what I’m most grateful for, out of all the blessings I could name.

Jonathan Green:

Neither of my Thanksgivings as a missionary were terribly memorable, although I did spend both of them in a city whose name translates as “food.”

39 Responses to Mission Thanksgiving Meals

  1. Edje on November 22, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Brazil, 1996: I don’t remember doing celebrating Thanksgiving at all (and am away from my journals so can’t verify). 1997: ate with Mission President’s family; had turkey with grape jello in place of cranberry sauce. It worked well enough.

  2. Adam Greenwood on November 22, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    That’s rich, Jonathan.

  3. Coffinberry on November 22, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    My son went into the MTC last Wednesday. I wonder what he is doing for Thanksgiving.

  4. Rusty Clifton on November 22, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    My first Thanksgiving in Guatemala came and went without me even knowing which day it was supposed to be. We probably ate the standard beans and eggs. My second Thanksgiving was spent in El Tejar with the Salazar family who was half-American and they cooked us a proper turkey dinner (along with the rest of our district). It wasn’t very good, but better than most everything else we were eating.

  5. Keri Brooks on November 22, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    North Carolina, 2003 and 2004:
    My first Thanksgiving in the mission field was a traditional Western US style holiday. Our preparation day was on Thursday, so it nicely fell on Thanksgiving. There was a family in the ward I was serving in who was temporarily living there on assignment from their company in Utah. They had no family in the area, so they invited both sets of missionaries over for dinner. They told us that since it was p-day, that we should come in normal clothes. Of course, we obliged our hosts. We had turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, yams, and pumpkin pie.

    My second Thanksgiving in the mission field was one week before I went home. It was more of the traditional Southern US style holiday. A 19 year old woman we had been teaching for a few months had just been baptized the week before, and she invited us to spend the holiday with her family. I brought green bean casserole because it just wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving to me without it. There was fried turkey, green beans cooked with pork, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and probably a few other things. Everyone enjoyed the green bean casserole and asked for the recipe. We had several opportunities to answer questions from the family about missions, the gospel, etc. It was a great way to end my mission.

  6. Talon on November 22, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    October 10, 1991 – I was in the MTC for Canadian Thanksgiving. I’m not sure what I ate that day, but I’m sure I had Froot Loops for breakfast, becuase thats what I ate every morning in the MTC, having never been allowed to eat them for breakfast growing up at home.

    November 22, 1991 – Page, Arizona – we had two dinner appointments, can’t remember where the first one was at noon, the second was at the Bishops house at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. When we arrived at the Bishops house it was about a million degrees inside as they, like many people in town, used a wood buring stove that didn’t regulate heat very well. I began feeling queezy, and just before we started eating I went in the bathroom and hurled my 12 o’clock turkey dinner. I felt much better afterwards, and had plenty of room for seconds.

  7. MDS on November 22, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    November 1994, Osnabrück, Germany: We were on our own, and had neither the time nor the resources to make a real Thanksgiving meal. That wasn’t going to stop us from gorging. We made a massive bowl of mashed potatoes, and cut up several big bratwurst, shredded a big block of cheese, and mixed it all together into a tasty treat.

    October 1995, Oberhausen, Germany: A sweet elderly sister from the ward approaches us about whether anyone has invited us over for Halloween dinner yet. We inform her that we have not had any invitations yet. She expresses dismay, and remarks that she knows what a significant holiday this is in America, and assures us that she will take care of us. We aren’t sure that not having a dinner appointment on Halloween is that big a deal, but since opportunities to eat at members aren’t that common, we gladly accept. We learn that she has also invited the other two companionships, and expressed similar sentiments to them. On Halloween, we arrive for the meal, only to find that she has confused Halloween and Thanksgiving. A huge turkey awaits, along with stuffing, potatoes, and all the trimmings. She has clearly gone out of her way to acquire some of the traditional Thanksgiving foods that aren’t all that accessible in continental Europe. All six of us eat to our hearts’ content, and thank her profusely, none seeing any need to point out that she is a month early.

  8. Kevin Barney on November 22, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Oh, Ardis, I absolutely love your “mission rules” arrangement! How perfectly Mormon!

    I was going to say that, like Jonathan, I simply don’t remember Thanksgiving on my mission. But then I remembered the trusty ol’ mission journal. So here are my entries (Colorado Denver Mission):

    11/24/77 We had a real fine Turkey Day today. We started the day off playing flag football in the Turkey Bowl that the Priesthood put on. We are going to be really sore in the morning!

    Then we went over to Wards’ and had Thanksgiving dinner. We got to watch football afterwards. [Commentary about the Bears v. Vikings omitted] Anyway, we dropped by the Cornwalls after that. I got to see part of a special on Hanna-Barbera that had Gene Kelly in it. It was cool.

    Well, I’ve gotta sack now. Next Thanksgiving I will have been out 13 months. I hope it comes soon!

    11/23/78 Today was THANKSGIVING! We watched football, played games, and ate at the Summerfields’. It was cool.

    Ky took Vicki Thayne out tonight. We went with him to get gas, and they had Heart on the radio (LIVE!). It was sooo nice!

  9. Bob on November 22, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Montana Mission: Thanksgiving, Xmas, New Year= Ok dinner with members, Ok Casual clothes, Ok to watch football, Ok to go to a Movie at night, Ok to call home.

  10. Hans Hansen on November 22, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Thanksgiving in Norway: 1968, 1969, 1970 (Yeah, back in the days before the MTC and/or the LTM in Rexburg: 30-month mission).

    Well, first of all, I am a native Californian, so Thanksgiving with snow was a bit different. Turkey in Norway was ferociously expensive, about three times more expensive than beef which was expensive enough to begin with; no wonder we ate so much fish on my mission because it was dirt cheap and fresh. I knew several members in Norway that had never tasted turkey, ever!

    We got a good deal the first Thanksgiving because one of the local members knew a friend who had a turkey farm and got the bird at a good price. No frozen birds, just fresh. For cranberries we used “tyttebær” or lingonberries; they’re tart and are generally served with pancakes or roast reindeer. (Yeah, I told my kids when they were little that Daddy had eaten Rudolph!) We made tons of homemade stuffing and mashed potatoes: fortunately our all-male districts had some good cooks, including one guy who had all his spices from home shipped to him while he was on the mission! We had apple pie since pumpkins were not available.

  11. Peter LLC on November 22, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Let’s see, on the mish it was kicking back with Americans in Vienna and kicking back with Austrians who might as well have been Americans.

    These days I just work overtime and eat the cafeteria’s version of “turkey and gravy” for lunch.

  12. Ray on November 22, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    MTC – mediocre cafeteria turkey +, I’m sure.

    Nemuro, Japan – also too lazy to find my journal – tiny branch on the southeast corner of Hokkaido – bitterly cold (no central heat, wood walls, no insulation, shampoo in fridge overnight to keep it from freezing on the shelf) – pretty sure we tracted all day and ate what we ate every day – prayed for a single mother and her 13-year-old son, I’m sure. (I absolutely LOVED that kid and desperately hope and pray they accepted the Gospel and were baptized eventually.)

  13. queuno on November 22, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Kevin, how were you watching Bears vs. Vikings on Thanksgiving? Was this a Thanksgiving Dinner on Sunday? [I don't have a calendar in front of me.]

    I am on the US North Coast visiting my parents this week, and they had dinner for the missionaries and us on Monday (long story). The missionaries had decided to do a split, not realizing that the DA was going to be a full turkey dinner with all the fixings (eaten in an hour, so as to comply with mission rules). The greenie from the other ward was practically gloating as he dug in.

  14. JA Benson on November 22, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    From Texas
    Elder Benson wrote on Tuesday:
    We have a baptism for a ten year old girl the day after Thanksgiving. We are eating
    Thanksgiving dinner with her family. Later we are eating dessert with the ward mission leader’s family. After all that we are spending the rest of the day with the Zone.

  15. Ian on November 22, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    November 1998, Santiago de Chile: Everyone in the zone pitched in some of their monthly allowance, and we had a feast at the home of some rather humble members. Only half of those present were from North America. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, hot rolls, soda, and ice cream. We sat around with plates in our laps, talking of traditions of far away places and times.

    The missionaries from Argentina and Chile, and the host family, asked lots of questions about the holiday. It was a welcome reversal of roles. Rather than being the foreigner struggling to understand the Other, my Latin friends were reaching out and trying to better understand me.

    Gratitude and tradition are universal. They got it.

  16. Left Field on November 22, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Here are my journal entries:

    Th Nov. 23 1978–We went into the City this morning and saw the Thanksgiving Day parade, and then ate dinner at the Mahwine’s. Sis. Mawinney gave us some food to take home also. [I think the second spelling is closer to correct. I was serving in New Jersey at the time.]

    Th Nov 22 1977 [Now serving in Queens]–Today is Thanksgiving day, and we went into Manhattan to see the Thanksgiving day parade. I hate parades, and and I saw the parade last year, so I wasn’t overly thrilled about seeing this one, but the rest of the district wanted to go so I didn’t have much choice. When we got back, we ate dinner at Brother Mabunga’s house. It was a very good meal.

  17. jose on November 22, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    American Thanksgiving,Provo MTC, 1994
    cafeteria Turkey Dinner

    Canadian Thanksgiving,Quebec, 1995
    Pizza Hut.
    The waiting line started outside the restaurant. Good thing it was only October so it wasn’t too cold. No wonder why Canadians have Thanksgiving so early.

    American Thanksgiving, Bordertown in Quebec, 1995
    Husband was American, so we had a traditional American thanksgiving and the husband told stories of when he was in the CIA (sorry, no waterboarding stories those would be too tame for this gentleman).

    Canadian Thanksgiving, Quebec 1996
    Traditional spaghetti dinner at the home of a member.

  18. Steve Jones on November 22, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Thanksgiving 1968 Montgomery Alabama at my cousins’s house at Maxwell AFB. He was the 2nd counselor in the Branch Presidency. My aunt and uncle were there from Utah and had made a stop in Arizona at their daughter’s and brought us fresh oranges and grapefruits. They were huge and delicious. I had been out 5 weeks and thought what a great Day of Thanksgiving.
    Thanksgiving 1969 Decatur Alabama, we did not receive a dinner invite from anyone in the ward and ate Thanksgiving Dinner at McDonald’s. WE made up for it at Christmas when a missionary in England wrote he nonmember parents in Decatur and asked them to ask the missionaries to dinner since they might be without an invite (which we were) and it could have be him. They were wonderful, she had a televsion show and invited us later to a couple of her shows, one of which was featuring desserts prepared by French chefs from New Orleans.

  19. Mark B. on November 22, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    November 1973. Okayama, Japan. I had been in Japan for about a week, was still culture-shocked beyond all recognition. I have no clue what I did that day.

    November 1974. Kishiwada, Japan. The whole zone met up in Sakai for dinner and a softball game. The zone leaders had found a business that had an oven that they could use, and roasted two turkeys–or were they just big chickens. As was the case for most of my mission, I think I was still hungry at the end of the meal.

  20. James Francisco on November 22, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    1979 – Bangkok, Thailand: I didn’t record what we ate that day. We put in a half day of proselyting and then went to a Zone Thanksgiving party and meeting. All of the missionaries in the zone had a good day. I’m assuming that we had some traditional turkey and stuff as the zone had some pretty good cooks.
    1980 – Bangkok (again): Another Zone Thanksgiving day. I wrote that we shared two “half-starved” turkeys and lots of the sides.Not much meat, but enough of the potatoes and other goodies that we were all satisfied.

  21. Kim Siever on November 22, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    My first full day in the field was American Thanksgiving. My trainer was Tongan and had booked us for 4 dinners spread throughout the day.

    I don’t remember the second. If I knew where my journal was, I could probably tell you. :) I know it would have been in Pleasant Grove, UT.

  22. Jon W on November 23, 2007 at 1:03 am

    California San Jose…

    1. Thankgiving was a bloated feast of 3 different turkey dinners. Kind of started blending in after a while.

    2. The second one was a classic however. A family who decided to sign us up for dinner were the WORST cooks ever. Sadly. They decided to BBQ the turkey. Why oh why they decided to do that I will never know but that is what they did.

    As you can imagine it was a vegan thanksgiving as they burnt the outside while leaving the inside perfectly raw. Our second evening dinner thoughtfully decided we would probably be pretty full so all they had were cookies… I was sad.

    While you appreciate members sharing their food I will recommend avoid experimenting on on the missionaries.

    My favourite missionary thanksgivings were actually when I lived in Britain with my family. We always tried to have the elders over for thanksgiving and we always celebrated the US one when in Britain. It was a lot of fun.

  23. WillF on November 23, 2007 at 1:36 am

    Thanksgiving in the Dominican Republic -> spent the first one with the older couple missionaries. They made a pineapple pie if I remember correctly. I am at a loss at remebering how they actually baked the pie since we didn’t have ovens. We drank batidas (fruit + condensed milk + ice + blender). The power went out and it was dark.

  24. Ben H. on November 23, 2007 at 9:13 am

    South Korea, 1999: Dinner at a member’s house. The entire branch (two families) was there. I was just in the country and they wanted to make me feel at home. One of the sisters decided to bake a pumpkin pie. She didn’t have a recipe, nor had she ever baked anything before. The pumpkin pie featured chunks of pumpkin mixed with onion slices.

  25. Dr. B. on November 23, 2007 at 9:16 am

    We celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada a month earlier. We had the usual stuff turkey, stuffing,etc. We went to the institute teacher’s Malcolm Warner’s home. I think he ended up a stake president. We stayed a couple of hours then went tracting. It was no big deal since good Elders don’t watch football. I don’t remember if there were parades since I never saw one. I don’t think they had those like Macy’s in the U.S.

  26. East Coast on November 23, 2007 at 11:47 am

    First year: generic meal in the MTC.
    Second year: my companion and I took sliced deli turkey on brötchen (delicious little hard white rolls) to eat at a district conference
    Nothing fancy. However, moving forward a month… Christmas is a major holiday in Germany. At Christmas, we accepted three dinner appointments, two for Christmas Eve and one for Christmas Day.
    First appointment…big delicious turkey dinner.
    Second appointment…big delicious turkey dinner.
    Third appointment…big delicious turkey dinner.
    I thought I would never be able to eat turkey again in my life. Fourteen years out I’ve been able to eat it a little sometimes.

  27. Lupita on November 23, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Santiago, Chile. Thanksgiving 1995, journal entry.
    What I am thankful for today:
    The gospel
    My family
    My friends
    Being a missionary
    Being able to go home (in May)
    My comp–she’s nice (an Uruguayan who was one of my favorites because she actually had a sense of humor)
    My health– I’m healthy
    The letters, support I get here
    The scriptures and Church books
    Good memories of good people
    The beauty and wonder of nature
    Turning 22 tomorrow
    My mind
    Made myself a tuna salad–was great. Thanksgiving’s gone and didn’t even eat a lousy olive. Lame mail day, oh well.

    I know, reaalllll inspirational :) Chilean food isn’t exactly amazing (when’s the last time you went to a Chilean restaurant?).
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane…

  28. Jacob M on November 23, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    Thanksgiving 2000 – Pocatello, Idaho. Had traditional turkey dinner with an investigator (never ended up getting baptized), but, since he was from Louisiana, had cornbread stuffing, which was unbelievably delicious.

    01 – Idaho Falls. Had Dinner with a part-member family. Traditional. Played football in the snow afterwards. Found dog poo with my shoe.

    Good times!

  29. Seth R. on November 23, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    I honestly don’t remember a single Thanksgiving dinner from my mission. I was in Japan, and you couldn’t get a culture more indifferent and unrelated to the holiday. I honestly don’t even think I noticed when the holiday was. Kind of passed me by without comment.

  30. dpc on November 23, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Keeping track of holidays in Japan was difficult. I remember when we tracted out the American Consular officer in downtown Sapporo and we asked him why he was painting eggs.

    Both Novembers I was there, I had Japanese companions, so they didn’t really help me remember the holiday much either.

  31. Marjorie Conder on November 23, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    #25–Dr. B. You might be interestest in knowing that Malcolm Warner was later president of the Toronto Temple. Great people!

  32. Kurt on November 23, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    New Zealand 1978

    The Sisters (Bennion and Turley) in our city (Upper Hutt) prepared a couple of chickens with the traditional sides for the 4 Elders in town. We had a wonderful meal and shared family stories.

    I don\’t remember the 2nd one. Must have been forgetable but not near my journal to verify.

  33. Adam on November 24, 2007 at 10:38 am

    Kentucky 2000: Thanksgiving with investigator family (baptized a couple weeks later)
    Argentina 2001: Forgot.

  34. Terina on November 24, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Angouleme France 1999: we made a thanksgiving dinner for our branch to try. i had just gotten there the day before, and my companion had said she would make rolls. but she wasn’t very smart, and thought baking soda was yeast. she didn’t know what yeast was in french.

    Limoges France 2000: i have no memories of any type of thanksgiving here. all i remember about this place was that it was freezing cold and that i had to ride my bike straight up a hill to church. and of course the millions of porcelain stores….

  35. Terina on November 24, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    ardis: i had many meals with either the elders or us sitting in the hallway, or on the stairs outside of our apartments. those were fun times!

  36. Chuck McKinnon on November 26, 2007 at 3:37 am

    In November of 1996 I was living in a four-man apartment in Agen, France. Three of us were Canadian and only one of us was American, so I don’t think we celebrated US Thanksgiving that year. I’d have to check my journal to be sure.

    November of 1995 I was in Cahors, the lone Canadian living with three Americans, and we had a Thanksgiving feast with friends that I won’t soon forget, mostly because it gave me an amusing mission story I’ve been retelling for years.

    A young couple who lived just down the quay from us had been taking the discussions. The husband was a boulanger, and they had moved into the neighborhood to revive a wood-fired boulangerie that had lain dormant for half a century. Best bread I’ve ever eaten. Anyway, we had them over to our apartment (the nicest one in the mission until Auch opened) for US Thanksgiving dinner.

    This couple was very into healthy, organic eating. (That they were both heavy smokers was an irony not lost on them.) The bread they made contained only organic ingredients, and was even kneaded by hand if the batches didn’t exceed 20kg. They were careful that nearly everything in their diet be organic, and preferably of local provenance — criteria that were, happily, easy to meet in the Lot department. Despite their suspicions of American malbouffe, our friends agreed to come for dinner.

    My companion had received a care package from home that included a few packages of Kool-Aid. Some of them were the kind that are one colour in the package, and another colour in the water. While we were confident that the rest of the dinner would meet with our friends’ approval (and it did), we couldn’t resist mixing the Kool-Aid in front of them. We chose grape flavour as an added dig — it was the closest they’d get to wine in a Mormon missionary apartment.

    Catherine, the wife, watched in undisguised horror as we poured the yellow contents of the Kool-Aid package into the water, which turned a livid purple. “What is that,” she asked? “An entirely chemical product with no nutritive value whatsoever,” was my amused reply. Watching us add a full cup of sugar didn’t improve their impressions of the beverage, and the smell didn’t do much for them either.

    Finally Yves, the husband, was prevailed upon to try some. He took a sip, swallowed, then looked around the kitchen at us and said: “You can drink this, but you can’t drink wine?”

    That got us all laughing, because none of us had a good answer for him.

  37. cantinflas on November 26, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    My first year was in McAllen, Texas with a part member family. I remember liking the meal, but not in a Thanksgiving kind of way. I’m pretty sure she had a mole sauce for the turkey, which I never liked. Also, the sides were never quite right. Mashed potatoes with chiles, tamales, warm pasta salad, etc.

    My second year was in Laredo, TX. Made 2 appointments, lost track of time at the one out of my area, and snubbed the first counselor in the branch presidency in my area without calling or anything. The poor guy went to our apartment to get us because his family was waiting for us to start their meal. He was a saintly man who only held the grudge for a couple of weeks. I still feel bad about that, and am reminded how amazing it is that 19 year olds can actually garner the good will they manage for the church.

  38. Steve L on November 26, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Nothing remarkable other than multiple meals both years, great hospitality from members, also in California San Jose, Jon W.

  39. Adam Greenwood on November 26, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    Mashed potatoes with chipotle can be really, really, really good.

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