I admit that I’m not a big fan of the traditional Thanksgiving holiday. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for my family and friends – I simply don’t like to cook. Running around busily preparing for guests, then waiting for a turkey’s “juices to run clear” is just not my idea of a holiday. Waiting in line at the airport with hundreds of other people for a domestic flight is no vacation either. I do love spending time with my family. However, I would rather spend it doing something of substance — something other than peeling and boiling potatoes and beating lumps out of the gravy.
Getting Away From the Masses
Recent travel research suggests that over 40 percent of Americans have taken a multi-generational trip in the past 12 months. Grandparents, parents and grandkids all traveling together can be an ideal way to enjoy quality time with loved ones. This year, more than 27 million people will fly home for Thanksgiving on domestic airlines. So why not instead take the family away from home? Why not take them away from the U.S?
Last November, my husband and I met my parents in Mérida, Mexico for an “Away From Home” Thanksgiving holiday. The multi-generational trip was delightful. Although land-locked Mérida lacks the sunny beaches and the turquoise sea of Mexico’s Gulf Coast, it is still a fabulous place to visit.
The City On Top of a City
Founded in 1542, Mérida is the largest city in the Yucatán Peninsula, with a charming historic center chock-full of colorful Spanish colonial churches, buildings, and cobblestone streets. Mérida feels far away from the U.S., but it’s only a short 2 hour international flight from Miami – and best of all, there’s no waiting in those serpentine airport lines.
My parents are an adventurous couple and they instilled in me their love of travel and learning about new cultures. We spent precious time with them walking the “centro histórico” or downtown, visiting the Spanish cathedrals and the national art museums. We learned that the Spanish conquistadors built Mérida over an ancient Mayan city that for centuries was the center of Mayan civilization. The carved stones they used to build their colonial buildings were taken from the Mayan temples and can be seen scattered throughout the walls of the Cathedral de Mérida.
Ancient Cities and Cultures
Today, more than half of the population in the Yucatán are of Mayan descent and they are extremely proud of their indigenous heritage. The traditions that permeate the Meridan culture are visible in its food, clothes and festivals. When we visited the impressive pre-Hispanic Mayan town of “Uxmal”, an ancient ceremonial site and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we suddenly understood why today’s inhabitants are still worshiping their ancestors.
Entering the ancient city, I was overwhelmed by its sheer size, and the majestic edifices that towered within its walls. The House of Turtles and the Pyramid of the Magician were so elaborately carved that I could get a sense of what being in this ancient world was like. The decades of architectural restoration and well-manicured grounds by the Mexican government revealed the high social and economic importance of this community.
An enterprising people, the Mayans built thousands of intricate limestone temples and pyramids as places of worship and government in southern Mexico and Central America. As we stood dwarfed by the massive buildings, we learned about how Mayan mythology ties into the land and the sky, as well as about their highly advanced use of hieroglyphics. Expertly carved with the animals that portray their gods, these majestic monuments are the last remaining remnants of an extraordinary culture that mysteriously abandoned their cities.
Celebrating With the Locals
But we didn’t forget the holiday. For our “Thanksgiving dinner”, we feasted on exotic Yucatecan dishes: “cochinita pibil” (marinated suckling pork with achiote) and “pollo con mole” (chicken with a delicious chocolate tasting sauce).
We reminisced about the memorable events of the past year and lamented that my London-based sister could not join us. As the night grew dark, we raised our margaritas and cheered “Salud!”, thrilled that we had escaped our everyday lives to be together and learn about the remote Maya past.
After dinner, we followed the locals who were gathering outside in the Centro park square to dance to live salsa music. The bright lights and melodic sounds of the popular local band encouraged us to dance and sing along with them. I learned a step or two, but it was my parents who really surprised us by showing off their salsa skills. We ended that amazing night by taking a horse-drawn carriage around the colonial town and clip-clopping back to our villa.
Ultimately, spending time with family anywhere is important. However, I can attest to the benefits of multi-generational traveling. Celebrating Thanksgiving away from home allowed us to share new adventures, try unique foods and explore the cultural gifts of a different country. Creating a special connection with my family while making lasting memories is something I will always be thankful for.