By Liam Higgins
Hundreds of U.S. expats gathered in restaurants and private homes Thursday to indulge in the traditional feast of Thanksgiving. Several El Centro restaurants offered turkey dinners with all the fixin’s, including Santorino’s, Santa Canela, El Mesón, Windhorse Café, and La Cilindrada.
“Personally, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday and I think a lot of gringos feel the same way,” said long-time expat Sylvan Hardy who enjoyed the holiday at at Santa Canela. “It’s a day to spend with family and friends — and to eat, of course — and doesn’t have all the consumerism strings attached that Christmas does.”
In the Santa Canela dining room on Calle Larga, groups of friends visited with each other before dinner. One couple played pool while others sat outside on the balcony, drinking and reminiscing. An expat dad shared a booth with his family, who were visiting from Connecticut. Two other couples dropped by for drinks on their way to another restaurants.
“It felt like Thanksgiving,” said Hardy. “It was even cool and drizzly like I remember back home in Virginia. The only thing missing was the football game in the back yard after dinner, although the Detroit Lions were playing on tv, which is also part of the tradition.”
Three blocks up Calle Larga, at the Windhorse Cafe, owners Lucy Altemus and Craig Adams were busy serving a Thanksgiving turkey dinner to their friends, both expats and Ecuadorians. Altemus, who came to Cuenca nine years ago with Adams, appreciates the correlation between the first Thanksgiving in North America and the meal Thursday in Cuenca, where foreigners ate with locals.
“It’s a holiday that goes back to the seventeenth century, when the first English pilgrims thanked God for their change of fortune after months of enormous hardship and shared the bounty of the new land with the natives,” she says.
A guest at the Windhorse Thanksgiving, Sandra Doren, gave thanks for the warm welcome she has received in her new home. “This is celebration of my new life in Ecuador, and we do it together with our friends and family, and we share with our Cuenca brothers and sisters who have welcomed us in their beautiful land,” she told a reporter for the Cuenca newspaper, El Tiempo.
According to Hardy, Thanksgiving for Cuenca expats has come a long way since his first one in 2003. “Most folks here had never heard of the holiday but I found a little restaurant on Luis Cordero, owned by a Cuencano, who had just come back from New York. He served roasted chicken with stuffing and cranberry sauce and I ate with him, his wife and son and it was fabulous.”
Hardy adds: “A couple of years later, the old Eucalyptus restaurant on Gran Colombia served the first advertised Thanksgiving meal,” he said. “As I remember, almost all of the dozen or so gringos living in Cuenca showed up.”