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FIRST-PERSON: Thanksgiving in India

INDIA (BP)–Many friends and relatives have asked about how we celebrated Thanksgiving here in India. Well, obviously, it is not an Indian holiday, even though it began with Indians at the first celebration in the 1600s — just a different kind of Indians.

To begin our story, we had been told that you could not get turkey here, so we assumed that was fact. However, while Boyd* was on his way home from a prison ministry trip, he noticed a turkey on the side of the road near one of the villages. He came home with a photograph, so we knew that they could be found.

The following week we went to the meat market area of town, specifically the poultry market. The first vendor we encountered had a live turkey caged and ready to be purchased. Wow, was it really going to be that easy?

We kept going and discovered that several of the vendors had them. After a few stops, we discussed options with one of the vendors, and he told us to wait a moment. The next thing we knew, his helper showed up with a plucked turkey. It looked as if it had been “hanging” around for some time. We explained to the man that we did not want to purchase then but just to order for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We discussed price and weight and came to an agreement with him. We left our contact information, got a business card from him, and went away pretty proud of ourselves.

One of our co-workers who had said you could not get a turkey revised her story and told us that the ones here are all too tough to eat. Well, I have cooked wild turkey before from Boyd’s hunting adventures, so I decided that I was up to the challenge! Boyd’s mom’s recipe for perfect turkey had never failed me, and I didn’t expect it to now.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Boyd was to pick up the turkey, but he was very busy and asked if I would go with our driver to the poultry market and get the bird. So, Edom* and I headed to town. He stayed with the car and kept it running about a block from the popular poultry stall. The vendor recognized me, smiled, and after a short discussion related to our deal, gave his helper some directions. The next thing I knew, he had retrieved a turkey from a cage, walked to the center of the walkway, and placed him on the ground with wings flapping. He asked, “Is this one OK?”

With absolute shock on my face, I responded that I had expected it to be dressed and cleaned. He was quick to tell me that he would do that for me. We settled on price, and he took the turkey to the back of the open stall for cleaning. I decided to go tell Edom to turn off the car because I would be a while.

A local man was watching me, especially when I started taking photos of the happenings. He asked what I was doing and what kind of bird it was. I explained about our national celebration to thank God for all He has done for us. We discussed when the tradition began and that President Lincoln in the 1860s had declared it a national holiday. I told him that the pilgrims were very thankful to God that they had survived the first year in their new land. He had many questions, and I was pleased to be able to share a little about the real meaning of Thanksgiving.

The turkey was finally ready and placed on the scales for weight so that the vendor would know how much to charge me. It came to 8.15 kilograms (about 18 pounds). His helper placed the bird in large trash bags and carried it to the car for me. Edom then dropped me off at the house so I could better clean the turkey prior to placing it in the refrigerator.

Boy, was I surprised when I took it out of the bag – it still had head and feet! After cleaning the body cavity, removing the esophagus, and other unwanted internal parts, I placed it in fresh bags and put it in the refrigerator until cooking time the next day.

Boyd had borrowed pans for cooking the bird. When I saw them, I knew they would not be nearly large enough. We measured the turkey so I’d know what to buy, and Wednesday morning, Edom and I started out for another adventure. We got to the first cookware store, and nothing even close was available. At the second stop, I found a 16-inch round pan that should be able to hold the bird. I called my neighbor to see if it would fit in her gas oven, since I only have an electric toaster-type oven. She said it would not, so we went to a third store. After several more phone calls, I finally purchased a pan.

After house church Wednesday night, I retrieved the turkey to prepare him for cooking. Several young co-workers, our neighbor and other friends were quite animated when we took it out of the bag with head and feet still attached. After lots of picture taking, Boyd removed the “extra” parts, and I prepared the turkey for cooking. We took it next door to cook overnight with the special recipe. Thursday morning, I retrieved the broth to make the dressing and gravy, and my neighbor put the bird back in the oven for the final hour before our Thanksgiving celebration.

We had approximately 80 Americans there to celebrate, using a large meeting room on the campus. Everyone brought several dishes, and no one went away hungry. Our bird was a hit, and the bones were picked clean. I did manage to save a little of it with the dressing and giblet gravy for our driver Edom and his family. They had never tasted turkey before, and we got the report the next day that they liked it and were surprised at how tender it was. The “recipe” worked one more time!

Thanksgiving should be a part of our daily lives, not just once a year. We must always be thankful that we worship a living God who provides for all our needs, regardless of where in the world we are serving Him.
*Names changed. Boyd and Peggy Uppinghouse recently completed their service as Southern Baptist representatives. This year, they will celebrate Thanksgiving with their family in Texas.

    About the Author

  • Peggy Uppinghouse*