A Very YAV Thanksgiving

We tend to hear more stories about the YAV program when the Pentecost Offering is received in June, but the work of our Young Adult Volunteers happens every day. I may be a bit biased, as it doesn’t seem like that long ago I was celebrating Thanksgiving in Belfast with my fellow YAVs, but I remember the feeling of living in a culture that doesn’t celebrate my favorite holiday, thousands of miles away from family, making preparations to spend it with friends so much more bittersweet.

YAV Thanksgiving 2012

A Very YAV Thanksgiving, 2012

This year, as you prepare to spend your holiday eating Aunt Barbara’s mashed potato casserole, or whatever tradition your family embraces, please take a moment to remember the Young Adult Volunteers spending what is likely their first Thanksgiving away from friends and family. I have included a blog post from current Belfast YAV Risa Rylander as she shares her thoughts leading up to the big day:  

Thanksgiving… The holiday of giving thanks… Turkey Day! For me, and I’m sure many others, also known as a day of food and family. I’m currently preparing myself to miss the classic tradition of sitting around a big table of deliciously prepared food (Think you could ship the leftovers trans-Atlantic Dede!?) where there’s always enough for at least twice as many people as are present, surrounded by my very close family and friends back home. However, spending Thanksgiving away from home for the first time has also unexpectedly turned into a small learning opportunity.

For instance, I never realized before, but in the U.S. the holiday of Thanksgiving acts as a kind of barrier between Halloween and the flood of Christmas cheer and more importantly… decorations. In most areas to my knowledge back home, displaying Christmas decorations before thanksgiving is a bit odd. Though, the very next day is fair game. However even as far back as mid-September here in Belfast, I noticed a relatively large shop that was entirely dedicated to Christmas decor in a local shopping mall.  And since even the beginning of November I have seen houses with lights and decorations out front. Without thanksgiving, there is nothing to hold people back!

Though to be completely honest, as Christmas is my favorite holiday, I’m not complaining too loudly. Just today I helped in dropping flyers to the local businesses around my placement at Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church inviting them to join in our “Carols for All” Christmas service in a few weeks. As my Presbyterian church is actually in a largely nationalist/Catholic neighborhood, it was fantastic how positively people in the shops responded when I introduced myself and invited them to our service. I received the same response when I walked into the very, very, Irish pub down the street from the church.  It was essentially empty at 2pm but the few people working were incredibly friendly, polite and receptive to the moment of cross-community outreach. So, maybe a longer Christmas is just what some neighborhoods need. It’s a holiday to bring folks together if there ever was one. But once again, as the Pilgrims and Native Americans might even be considered the original peacemakers and community builders, Thanksgiving shows its value as well.

Being an American not in America for our famous turkey-day actually isn’t without its small benefits.  The theme for our monthly community event called Messy Church for November was Thanksgiving “for the American on the team.” And one big highlight of my month was actually getting to share the story of Thanksgiving during story time with the children who came to Messy Church. It felt like such a great small victory to sit and talk with some of the kids who I felt I hadn’t made a great connection with just yet. Talking about my home and explaining to the kids how some of their ancestors actually came to settle America, turned into some great “craic” (a local word for fun) with the kids.

Since it is such a valuable topic for all ages, I also used the theme of giving thanks in preparation for this month of bible study sessions with a significantly older group than those at Messy Church. And so all month long we have been having some great thought-provoking discussions based on bible passages regarding giving, receiving and expecting thanks. It has been immensely rewarding to start each week’s session sharing one thing that we are each thankful for that day and, in fellowship, to share in that joy.  And so in keeping with the idea of sharing all we have to be thankful for, I would like to share a few things that have come up for me this month. I am thankful for the amazing support I have received from friends and family so far this year. I am thankful for all of my new friendships and experiences this year, and all of those to come. I am thankful to be a part of a very meaningful movement towards reconciliation in Northern Ireland this year, and I am thankful to have such a loving home to return to at the end of it. And lastly I am especially thankful that I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with my small band of fellow Americans who traveled across the pond with me, hosted by our fearless YAV leader, Doug, and his amazing hostess wife, Elaine. And so to all those celebrating thanksgiving this year, I hope your day is filled with friends, family, too much food, and plenty of other things to give thanks for!

Reposted with permission. 

Support Young Adult Volunteers through the Pentecost Offering year round!

Or just buy them a nice Thanksgiving dinner in our Giving Catalog. 🙂

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