Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that has always intrigued me. It’s one of the only holidays that anyone can buy into. Its not for any religion, ethnicity, or other specific group. It is simply American, which, I think, is what makes it so special. On Thanksgiving, we celebrate our collective coming to America. Everyone, whether they have ties to the mayflower or just immigrated to America last week, shows their gratitude and indebtedness to those first brave explorers who ventured across the sea in search of a land free from persecution or oppression. We think about all the opportunities we’ve been granted in America and remind ourselves of the sacrifices that were made in order for those opportunities to exist. On the more personal level, its one of the few times of year where we all pause to appreciate what we have – our family, our health, our personal successes and achievements, and, of course, the food we eat. Almost everyone goes home at Thanksgiving, no matter where they may be and how far away their family is, because its one of the few opportunities each year when everyone has the time and the inclination to be together.
In my family, we don’t usually celebrate Thanksgiving, at least not in the traditional sense. My parents never really understood the holiday, plus not one person in my family will touch a turkey with a ten foot pole, let alone put one in our oven and then eat it afterwards. And cranberry sauce? No way. What are you supposed to do with that weird tangy goop? When I picture Thanksgiving, I see happy families, spending time together, watching football, wearing thick winter sweaters. I see long tables, overflowing with corn, sweet potatoes, newly carved turkey. But in my family nobody watches football. Nobody wears thick winter sweaters, especially not ones with snowflakes or moose on them. Nobody craves the heavy comfort foods of the holiday. Not one of us has watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since my sister was a baby and we put it on so she could giggle at the floats and balloons. Instead, we often find ourselves on a beach somewhere, or simply at home doing nothing. So usually when people ask what my Thanksgiving plans are, I tell them I have none. They are always shocked. Sometimes people even tell me they feel bad that its not something my family does, since its “THE BEST HOLIDAY EVER”.
But this Thanksgiving I finally had plans to tell people about. Instead of going on a trip or passing the time at home, my family decided to have a real Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone will be in town, and everyone has to eat, we figured, so it just made sense. We invited my mom’s parents, my dad’s father and his girlfriend, my aunt and uncle, and our best family friends with their three kids. We set up a long folding table at the end of our dining room table to create one long table where everyone could sit together. We cracked out the Passover linens and the fancy napkin rings. We made place cards. When Thursday came, my mom took to the kitchen, preparing nearly a dozen overflowing dishes for the guests.
Around five o’clock, everyone arrived. By six we had sat down to eat. We didn’t have Turkey or cranberry sauce, nor did we have sweet potatoes or corn. There was not even one pie. Instead, we worked together to build an elaborate paper Turkey to put in the middle of the table. We ate chicken, quinoa pilaf, kale salad, roasted asparagus, and other regular dishes. We did it buffet style, with everyone lining up at the kitchen counter with their plates. We drank a slightly excessive amount of wine followed by a slightly excessive amount of scotch. Our first Thanksgiving was unconventional, but lovely.
Thinking about it afterwards, I realized that Thanksgiving is not really about any of those traditions. While the food and the football and the parade play their role, they aren’t the important parts. What’s important is that we were all together for a whole day, just being happy and keeping each other company. We may not have gone around each saying what we’re thankful for this year, but our mere presence implied that we are thankful for one another. While I loved our unconventional Thanksgiving, I know that if we never have one again it won’t matter; because no matter where in the world we are or what we are doing, if my family is together on Thanksgiving, it’s more than enough.