My First Thanksgiving
On a cold, snowy night in November of 2004, I went to my first Thanksgiving dinner. It was in Rochester, MI, and we were going to the home of my husband’s uncle and aunt. We bundled ourselves and our little 22-month-old son and drove 30 minutes from our tiny 1-bedroom apartment to the first American house we had ever been inside. We had only been in the United States for about two months, and everything still felt strange and unfamiliar.
I can vividly remember the week before this Thanksgiving sitting on the couch after laying our son down for his afternoon nap. I was reading and must have dozed off. When I woke up, something was falling from the sky! Large, white flakes were coming down, and soon the entire ground was snowy white! To this day, I can remember thinking, this is why they say white as snow! I had never seen anything so magical in my entire life!
I experienced my first Thanksgiving meal, the kind I had only seen pictures of in magazines before. There were mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing (I still have no idea why it is called stuffing; it’s always in a casserole), gravy (very confusing to an Indian), bread rolls, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole. But, of course, the roasted turkey occupied the place of honor at the head of the table. On the sideboard were apple pies, pumpkin pies, and pecan pies. I had never eaten pie before, and I am biased, but Michigan has amazing apple pies!
Two Cultures Blending at the Table
But a fascinating side to this meal was that there was still more food on an extra table in addition to all these delicious Thanksgiving favorites. There was mutton biriyani, chicken curry, yogurt raita (salad), a basket of chapattis (Indian flatbread), and chicken pepper fry. Our family being Indian, we could not leave the Indian delicacies from the Thanksgiving meal. It was an integral part of our culture. While we had embraced the American traditions of the Thanksgiving feast, we also did not want to forget our country of origin and the food we ate during celebrations there. So, if Thanksgiving was to be a day of remembrance and gratitude, we needed to introduce the flavors and spices of India to the meal.
Since that day, I have celebrated many Thanksgiving meals. I learned to prepare all the dishes over time except for Turkey. Somehow, I always found it easier to order a turkey at our local grocery store. The sheer size of the bird overwhelmed me. We had a fellowship Thanksgiving meal at our local Indian church for many years, where the Indian spices went in perfect harmony with the casseroles and pies. You probably get where I am going by now.
The Delicate Balance Between Two Cultures
As immigrants, it was easy to assimilate and accept the culture and traditions of the country we moved to, but it was harder to leave behind or forget the traditions we had grown up with and was a part of our DNA. We are all being formed constantly in life. As an immigrant, I had to find the balance between living by the country, culture, and people who had formed me for the first 26 years of my life to adapt to the new country, culture, and community which was starting to form me.
Life in this nation has taught us to assimilate, although we still walk the tension. We still walk the delicate balance between two cultures, knowing to absorb the good and leave behind the not-so-good.
We have been called to put roots in the land God has placed us. Jeremiah 29: 4-5 tells us, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.'”
Draw Your Circle Wider This Holiday
Over the years in the United States, we have discovered that everyone gravitates towards family during Thanksgiving. However, after 14 years in Dallas, TX, we were only ever invited once to a friend’s home for Thanksgiving.
It always struck me odd that people assumed we celebrated Thanksgiving. People from other cultures often plan vacations at that time or have Friendsgiving. But, unfortunately, most of our American friends forgot us during that week. We always tried to travel during that time, but the pandemic made me realize how hard it was when no one invited us.
So, last year we invited friends over and celebrated the holiday. It taught me how important it was to be compassionate, considerate, and think of others. It taught me to widen my circle and open my home. When you walk with intentionality in your relationships, there are many lessons you can learn and many blessings you can reap.
So, this holiday season, look at your circle and community; whom can you invite to sit at your table? Perhaps they could bring a meal with a blend of spices which marries well with turkey and gravy. Let us be willing to open our hearts and our homes to those who do not look like us, who might not share much in common with us but who still want to be seen, known, and loved. After all, people are people.