SEATTLE | IRINA VANPATTEN | When I was a kid, I loved the Soviet movie “Gypsies go to Heaven”. Mostly, because its main character, Rada, looked so similar to me that my nickname, when I was growing up, was Gypsy. I hated my nickname but I loved Rada, because she was a mysterious fortuneteller and a free spirited rebel.

I wished I could travel with her tribe from place to place: at home everywhere but, at the same time, not at home anywhere. Not even the fortuneteller could predict that so many years later I would find myself in America, feeling like a gypsy again: at home in America.

There is one thing that makes me feel right at home in America: the holidays. It all starts with Thanksgiving. The most American holiday of all, but the most homie and comforting holidays of all, as well. I love everything about it: the preparation, the busyness of it, the gathering of the family for just dinner. Unlike Christmas, that has the uncomfortable pressure of who’s buying what gifts. Thanksgiving it’s about one thing multiplied to three: food as a main dish, food as a light dish and a food group of its own: the pies.

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Starting with the turkey. Well, not exactly. A baked turkey is not the most common dish at home, but in my mind it’s as close as it can get to a baked chicken, so it will do. But, my God, potatoes? Don’t even get me started! There are so many potato dishes back home, that I don’t know where even to begin. More than that, there is no holiday without potatoes from where I’m from. We boil, fry, bake, then cut, smash and shred the damn potatoes in every dish possible.

Potato salad, anybody? Check. We call it with a fancy Italian name Olivie, only God knows why, but we do. Mashed potatoes with gravy? Check. But our gravy is more colorful because we love adding veggies to it. Potato casserole?  Check. Though, we like to baked them with spices in a crock pot, rather than in a baking pan, to keep the juiciness and flavor in it.

But regardless of similarities, I can’t help but compare the way the holidays used to be back home with the way they are now for me in America. It’s only natural for them to be different. Something’s better, something’s hard to get used to. Like why, why, do Americans put sweet barbecue sauce on meet? Can somebody explain that to me? But the toughest thing to get used is that I no longer have my direct big family around me during the holidays. Yes, I’m blessed with a big American family of my husband, but still.

Irina VanPatten

When the Iron Curtain fell, we fled like a family of true nomads. I’m in Seattle, my son-in North Carolina, my daughter-in Japan, my sister- in Dublin, my cousins in Montreal, my other cousins in Greece. As a matter of fact, we’re only coming together for two occasions: weddings or funerals. Therefore, the holidays have a special meaning to me. It’s a great occasion to come together when no one is getting married and nobody has died, and have some good old American Apple pie.

Irina VanPatten

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