The First Thanksgiving
“If you’re going to America, bring your own food.” Fran Lebowitz
I overheard a conversation between four immigrants. They were discussing Thanksgiving with the confidence of people who had celebrated all their lives. “My wife makes the turkey but we always do Israeli cous cous, salad and hummus to to go along with it, “ said the Israeli man. “I have to have rice. I like to put my turkey on the white rice and eat it, replied the Vietnamese woman. “ We make the turkey more spicy. My family likes spicy”, added the Colombian woman. “My friends and I go out. I love my turkey on Thanksgiving “, said the man from Budapest. I listened to the different accents discussing the best way to cook a turkey. It was clearly their holiday.
Most of them learned about the tradition from their kids. It is the same way that my grandparents learned about America. The kids assimilate first. They learn in school how to be American kids. My Vietnamese hairdresser said his son came home from school one day crying that they didn’t have turkey to eat. “So I went and bought a turkey breast and cooked it Vietnamese style with soy sauce and spices. Now we make best American turkey in my family. Every year we learn more and we do it better.” My Vietnamese manicurist said the first year they bought a turkey leg and cooked it with vegetables and rice and shared it with ten people. Now she cooks a roast on Christmas, a lamb on Easter and a whole turkey on Thanksgiving.
A Russian friend told me she learned about it at work.“Everyone asked what I was doing for the holiday and I didn’t know about this holiday. They told me that Columbus discovered America and there was a bird involved. I needed to cook this bird for the holiday. They told me it was Appreciation Day. Every year we say what we appreciate. The first year I followed the recipe they gave me for the stuffing. No one liked it. Now I make a Russian buckwheat stuffing which we love.”
I remember my Italian neighbors always had a pasta on the table. “We can’t have a holiday without sauce”, the mom would say. My friends in Japan studied in the US. Every year they miss Thanksgiving. One of them makes a turkey every Thanksgiving. She puts the pictures on facebook. Her small children who don’t speak English yet, have celebrated Thanksgiving in Japan every year since they were born.
I don’t know if any of these people know the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians. It is only discussed in elementary school.
But what I do know is for this one day in America, we are all doing the same thing. Thanksgiving is the only day in this country that surpasses race, religion, ethnic background, economic background, location, country of origin, age, sex, sexual orientation and political affiliations. We are all having turkey (or side dishes if you are vegetarian) with friends and family. If we can all agree to have turkey on Thanksgiving, some day we can learn to agree on other things. I guess that is what Thanksgiving means – a day of peace, hope and gratitude. Maybe they do know the story – the modern version.
When I first met my daughter’s boyfriend, he told me that his family didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving because they are South African. Our dinner is at their house this year.
Tell me your Thanksgiving stories.
Fly Safe and Happy Thanksgiving (The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest flying day of the year in the US)