A Thanksgiving Tale

There is this sweet old lady in our office who’s one of the most talkative and friendly Americans I know. She must be over sixty years old, but she’s the one greeting us all first thing in the morning with a smile and a chirpy ‘Good morning’, she asks after our weekends and remembers all our birthdays. A warm grandmotherly sort of person is how I always think of her.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I got chatting with her about our holiday plans. She was planning to go over to her daughter’s place. ‘No more cooking for me, I’ve done it for so many years, let the daughter do it now!’, she declared. And then she wanted to know our plans. ‘We are going to Vegas’, I told her.

She seemed slightly shocked. ‘Do you have family in Vegas? Thanksgiving is supposed to be family time!’, she told me, a somewhat disapproving look on her face. It would have been rude to tell her I didn’t know what Thanksgiving was until I came to America two years ago and that it wasn’t exactly the most important festival on my social calendar.

So I did the next best thing and told her our family was in India and we had no family here, so we thought we might as well take advantage of the long weekend and have some fun instead. She seemed to get it, I think, for the frown gave way to her usual smile once again as she piped up, ‘Oh yes, enjoy while you can dearie!’

Long after our conversation was over, her words and her reaction stayed with me. And made me re-think my views on Thanksgiving. Why were we so disassociated from the festivities? I couldn’t think of a good reason except that we had never really given a thought to it!

Thanksgiving isn’t a religious festival at all. So there’s no reason we cannot celebrate it. And we don’t believe in any such religious restrictions anyhow. Even for Christmas, which is a religious festival, I learnt Christmas carols for the office luncheon and we brought home a tree and decorated it in our amateurish desi way and had great fun in the process.

The problem was in our perception, I realized. Here was an American treating us as fellow Americans while we thought of ourselves as Indians after all. In our minds, we were still living in India.

Was it time to assimilate a little more? At least for the time we are here? We could have vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners, couldn’t we? Call over friends, if not family. Maybe we wouldn’t want to it every year, but trying it once in a while wouldn’t be a bad idea either, would it?

I am still thinking about this. Perhaps it will never make much of a difference to us either way, but if we decide to bring up our kids in this country, we’ll need to be much more participative in this whole Thanksgiving/Christmas scene, I feel. Do you folks agree?

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24 responses to “A Thanksgiving Tale

  1. It is surely a nice thing to celebrate….and what better than a day to give thanks to all that makes your life comfortable and worthwhile?

    I would say do celebrate….and while at it smear the old lady with a bit of gulal on Holi too!!!

  2. I don’t see anything wrong with celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s like Americans wondering if it’s okay they partake in Diwali or Holi celebrations if they happen to live in India. Why not? πŸ™‚

  3. That’s a great idea now Pinku! We actually thought of introducing our American friends to Indian festivals last year, but turns out religious celebrations are not encouraged in office. Which is why they canceled our carolers group last Xmas too… 😦 But you know, we keep bringing Indian food to office and they love it. I am always asked for recipes and ingredients!

    Oh yes, I love the idea of Thanksgiving too Ritu. Is there something comparable in our tradition, do you know?

    No, nothing wrong about the idea Sindhu. It’s just that it never occurred to us before – we thought of celebrating Xmas because there’s a lot of decoration and caroling and fun involved and also because we did know something about it from our childhood. But Thanksgiving was totally alien and never registered in our minds at all!

  4. If anything, Thanksgiving is an immigrant’s festival. Atleast, hte official story of Thanksgiving says that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by pilgrims to thank the native Americans for helping them asimilate into the climate and culture of American soil. So, nevermind anything else, we always celebrate Thansgiving.

  5. Luckily for me, my grandparents stay here in US. We are “assal” Deshastha Brahmans. I came to US to pursue higher education. My grandparents have been celebrating Thanksgiving for the last 35 years, since they migrated to US. It is fun to own the new customs and traditions. And now, we all do celebrate Thanksgiving in a traditional way- we have football and yes we so have turkey. It’s like American Deepavali- all about good food and good times πŸ™‚

  6. Love the new look of the blog!
    Of course we can celebrate them, or atleast rejoice that it is a holidays and have some sort of get-together stuff.
    This is the time everyone is relaxed and in a holiday mood and def while staying here, and there is nothing wrong in blending in (if one is not too religious).
    We also do the christmas tree. It is a lot of fun and a substitute for kolu! I enjoy halloween, T-giving and christmas here. Its the holidays afterall…

  7. Like you, we used T’giving as an opportunity to travel before we had kids. Now, we make a vegetarian T’giving lunch, and talk about what we’re thankful for during the year. The afternoon is devoted to the big football game, while the non-sports inclined members take a nap πŸ™‚ We decorate the outside of the house for Diwali, which usually falls before T’giving, so that part of the weekend’s activities is done. Years that we do set up the Christmas tree, we do it over the 4 days. Some years noone is energized enough to deal with the work, so we don’t set up the tree at all (like this year – daughter, who is the usual instigator of the tree setup decided it was too much work)

    Some ideas for veggie T’giving that incorporates ideas of the American meal, without being completely different (you could certainly make any meal you liked, and call it T’giving!) –

    main dish is always pasta for us, we tried the “fake-meat” thingy once, but none of us could handle the texture of it. We use cranberries in upma or couscous (we made lemon-cranberry couscous this year), or I make a cranberry chutney – none of us like sweet relishes, which is the traditional cranberry dish.
    Cornbread or Cornbread muffins, green bean casserole (great favourite this is), pie (storebought, I balk at baking pies – too much work for the result IMO, but YMMV obviously).

    Some years, we’ve made all the dishes with a S.Western flavour (We’re in TX), so fajitas or quesadillas with cranberries in the filling, mexican corn bread, a tex-mex version of casserole etc.

    M

  8. No harm in celebrating Thanksgiving for sure, but Im with you, its one of the best times to get away for a long weekend! πŸ™‚

    The old lady sounds sweet. But sometimes people really don’t realize theres any other way than American, hehe.

  9. I immigrated from Switzerland, and there, Thanksgiving is different from the way it is celebrated here in Canada. TG has a long tradition, but the Swiss Harvest Celebration is primarily a religious celebration. One goes to church on the 3rd Sunday of October and gives thanks to β€œthe heavenly gifts” received throughout the year. It is not an official national holiday.
    Canada’s tradition started earlier than in the US, and claims different roots (not the pilgrim thing). Apparently, it goes back to the English Explorer Martin Frobisher. It’s celebrated on the second Monday in October, and I believe it became an official holiday in 1957. They needed a reason for a so-called β€œlong weekend” (I don’t know if I am kiddingJ
    I enjoy Thanksgiving here in Canada with my neighbours – a get together with friends and family – I am a vegetarian, and the good thing here is that everybody pitches in with food – like that we can bring out own dishes and enjoy a meatless meal. And since it’s not “pinned” to a religious background here – we are quite a diverse bunch of people being thankful that we have each other.

  10. The girls learn so much at school that its very difficult to explain why other kids get presents from Santa and they dont. Or why they get to eat Turkey and we dont. So we do the Thanksgiving(i didnt do it this year though) and we just set up the tree. In fact am going to blog about our tree decorating right now

  11. Hey, that’s a new point of view anon – I did know the history behind Thanksgiving but never related to it this way. Thanks!

    Is football part of the festivities Swati? I had no idea… sorry, I am totally clueless about this!

    Thanks Jira! I love it too! πŸ˜€

    Hmmm… great ideas M! This is a nice opportunity to make our own traditions na? I can’t stand the thought of fake meat even, but your other ideas sound good. Thanks!

    ‘People really don’t realize theres any other way than American.’ Exactly what I thought then Mirchi. But if we look at it from another angle, it’s nice to see that she doesn’t look at us as outsiders na?

    Interesting insights Fida. Thanks for sharing them! Thanksgiving with neighbors is a good idea too. We hardly get a chance to interact otherwise. We used to celebrate Holi and one other full moon night festival together that way in India… It was great fun!

    Looking forward to it Sunita. Pics also please! πŸ™‚

  12. It really dosn’t matter where and what you celebrate-does it? each festival has something unique behind it’s origin. I really liked your viewpoint that we shouldnot forget our roots but at the same time try to “assimilate” ourselves into the culture that we have adopted…after all we will grow to love it too sooer or later(thats if it has already not happened). Really good post…
    PS:could you tell me the significance of this festival? I am curious too know as I have heard a lot about it but don’t know much about it’s importance..

    & I liked your new template..

  13. To me, every holiday or festival is mainly about getting together with family or friends and having fun. I don’t attach any religious significance to them, not even to the Indian ones. We usually spend TG with my cousin and though we eat vegetarian food, the spirit is about enjoying good times with loved ones. As for Christmas, we generally always take vacation then. Again, for me that’s because I don’t really have much family here. But the years we have been at home, we have had friends over for dinner, and even exchanged gifts.

    A colleague asked me if how i celebrate TG and Christmas will change after i become an American citizen or have kids or both, and i told her the same thing – i never leave any opportunity to celebrate.:) In fact, i don’t have much fun celebrating Indian festivals in the US because i feel the ‘right mood’ is not there. So instead, i like celebrating the American holidays because that’s when there is a festive atmosphere around.

    BTW, i LOVE the new look!!

  14. This year my husband and I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving either. It never was one of my favorite holidays and with being away from family and the Mumbai attacks the feeling wasn’t there.

    You could try Tofurkey, but I agree with others that it is not very appealing. Cranberries with upma sounds interesting. Also, yams or sweet potatoes are very traditional for American Thanksgivings. My family adds all sorts of weird things to them–butter, brown sugar, orange juice, marshmellows.

    My husband is very excited about having a Christmas tree. It will be his first. We’ve been invited to spend Christmas with his sister-in-law’s family so we will do a Secret Santa thing with them. I’m also planning on making him a Christmas stocking.

    Thanksgiving is significant because it commemorates when the Native Americans and the early Pilgrim immigrants from England supposedly sat down and feasted together. It is about friendship and coming together despite differences.

  15. Thanks Mithe – the pic is beautiful na? It was taken on one of our treks here. About your question, I am not very aware of the intricacies. But basically this is a festival where families come together and remember their blessings. Sounds lovely actually! Baki, I learned some of the history and the traditions in the comments here myself! πŸ™‚

    Hmmm… yes, that’s true Chakli – festivals need to be celebrated as a community, so though we do try to recreate the Diwali spirit here, it’s not exactly the same. For that, we go to New Jersey. πŸ™‚

    Sounds cool Minnie, do blog about it. I’ll be interested to know how the stockings stuff actually works. πŸ™‚

  16. I agree. When you’re here, I guess it makes more sense to enjoy the festivities of the land rather than crib about YOUR festivals not seen around! My aunt in Ohio cooks up a full turkey every Thanksgiving. And when she mentioned that, everyone in India were shocked beyond words!! Not everyone was pleased but I was πŸ™‚

    Especially when you have children going to school, it is hard to explain why you DONT do certain things. And what better way to explain tolerance than celebrating each others’ festivals? πŸ™‚

    And I did happen to meet my family during Thanksgiving. We celebrated it at Minneapolis though:)

  17. i think its cool to celebrate all festivals!! it just adds to our life’s richness, these celebrations! πŸ™‚

    and i guess all our festivals (add to that we have so many) are about getting together with family and friends! maybe you can invite her over for Diwali next year?! πŸ™‚

    cheers!

  18. Hi,
    just wanted to add, that, as with most festivals, most of the work devolves on the women πŸ™‚ So I only add on as much work as I am wiling/able to do!

    MmK, my family has a problematic relation with sweetpotatoies (er..they hate ’em), thus the lack – I love them, but only boiled, topped with salt/pepper….but our local grocery store has a sale on fresh cranberries now, and I bought a large batch to make pickle…tastes wonderful. (As does crab apple pickle)

    M

  19. Cranberry pickle… mmmm!!! And I always had this sneaking suspicion crab apple anything wasn’t vegetarian, thanks for clarifying. πŸ™‚

  20. hey…don’t think so much abt it…..just enjoy yhe feeling of the festive air!

    That remains constant the world over…happiness in the heart and sending a quiet thanks up there for life being good πŸ™‚

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