Thanksgiving in Portugal
Maria, Rome, Fall 2016
April 25, 2017

In the United States, I usually celebrate Thanksgiving by eating turkey, mashed potatoes, and so forth with my family. This year, Thanksgiving was very different. First, this was my first thanksgiving away from home.  So you can imagine the feelings of missing being with your loved ones, especially since now it has been about three months since not seeing all of them. However, there were also feelings of gratefulness, of course, and happiness too. Gratefulness and happiness at having the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving in a very special way with a very special trip to Fatima, Portugal.

Candles Fatima Pilgrims have lit including mine

Now, a little background on why I chose to make this special trip, or pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal of all places for the Thanksgiving break. Fatima, Portugal is the site of the different apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. If you are not familiar with Our Lady of Fatima and are interested in learning more about Her story, just Google it and you will find a lot of information. Our Lady of Fatima is a very well known apparition of the Virgin Mary worldwide, so there’s plenty of information about Her. So, my first name is Maria but my middle name is Fatima, which in most Mexican communities, relatives and friends call you by your middle name. I was named after Her because my dad’s birthday is on the date of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. I am very honored to carry Her name and am very devoted to Her.  So now you can probably understand more of why this particular Thanksgiving was so unique and special for me.

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima with a Statue of Saint Pope John Paul II overlooking it

Thanksgiving day in Fatima started out with me arriving to Lisbon airport in the morning, and taking the metro to a bus station where I would then take an hour and a half bus ride to Fatima. Upon arriving to Fatima, I checked into my hotel. This was the first time I stayed in a hotel during my time abroad so far because I usually stay in hostels, since they are cheaper and you can meet more people.  But in Fatima, there were only hotels. After checking in, I ate a typical Portuguese codfish dish for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Then, I explored the sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima.

Selfie with my little statue of Our Lady of Fatima my aunt Lupita gave to me when I was little

It blew me away as I saw more and more of it. It is a tremendous place that marks the actual spot where Our Lady of Fatima appeared. I did the typical things every Fatima pilgrim does, such as burning huge candles for each of my family members. I ended my exploration of the sanctuary by going to mass at one of the chapels. This brought back great memories of my family and I going to mass together on Thanksgiving day.

Ending the day at the sanctuary with Mass in this little chapel

After that, I went back to my hotel, and upon looking at their restaurant’s dinner menu, I saw that they had a turkey dish. Of course I had to get it. I couldn’t believe I had actually been able to eat turkey for Thanksgiving here in Fatima. After dinner, I watched Netflix in bed for a while before knocking out.

The grilled turkey is under the mountain of french fries I ordered :)

All in all, even though I was doing a solo trip to a part of the world I had never been to before on Thanksgiving day away from family and friends, my day turned out amazing and definitely one I will always cherish. If any of you who are reading this study abroad in the future, I definitely recommend doing a very special trip on your Thanksgiving break if you have the chance to. Even if you have to go by yourself. Solo trips are so empowering and awesome. No matter what you decide to do though, as long as you are doing something that makes you happy, any holiday away from home will always be a very memorable one.

– Maria Torres Hernandez was a Fall 2016 SAI Rome student from St. Mary’s College of California

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SAI Programs is dedicated to providing academic and cultural learning experiences abroad that enhance global awareness, professional development and social responsibility. We concentrate our programs in Europe, with a focus on in-depth learning of individual European countries and their unique global role in the geopolitical economy, humanities, and in the arts.