Coming from a family of Chinese immigrants, we don’t have centuries of Thanksgiving traditions. However, this does not negate the importance of the Thanksgiving holiday in our home. Rather, among all the busy goings-on in our lives, Thanksgiving is our only chance during the year to dedicate an entire day to family and friends.
How we celebrate does not matter. There have been many times my parents, brother and I stayed in for Thanksgiving. On other occasions, my father invited his students at Drexel University, too far away from home for festivities, to join us, or we attended parties with other Chinese families hours away. Indeed, my fondest memories of Thanksgiving include running around with other kids my age in someone’s basement.
This year, we are trying our first fully vegan Thanksgiving, complete with a stuffed roast that I promise does not taste like cardboard, melted marshmallows on sweet potatoes, and of course, our favorite Chinese foods. What has always mattered is that we are together, sharing memories of frantic cooking and baking, and enjoying each other’s company with what is always a wonderful feast.
As part of an Indian-American family, we never celebrated Thanksgiving in the traditional sense until recently. Because my parents immigrated from India, my first cousins were the only close family members we could spend the holiday with. But when I started elementary school in New Jersey, they moved to the Midwest. And as vegetarians, a traditional turkey dinner was unfortunately out of the question.
So, most years, our family participated in a sort of inversion of Thanksgiving. Instead of staying in for a dinner feast, which my mother’s fantastic cooking made available most nights anyway, we used our days off to spend time away from home. We caught up on the latest fall blockbusters, toured the Smithsonian in D.C., and visited Rockefeller Center in New York.
A couple of years ago, our cousins moved back to New Jersey. For the first time, we’re able to have Thanksgiving dinners with them, even without turkey. My mother and my aunt pool their resources and abilities to prepare the most exotic Indian dishes with finesse. As our family has begun to explore this more customary idea of Thanksgiving, I find myself realizing that though in the past we may not have had sit-down dinners, the holiday still became a way for my family to build memories and experiences. In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, we grew closer together as a family.
Before you can dig into dad’s turkey, grandpa’s ham and your aunt’s stuffing, there are a few preliminary steps to a Caucasian Thanksgiving. First you must make the decision of which parent’s house to go to. The divorce rate in white marriages is 48%, meaning this is a question many teenagers and young adults must answer.
Regardless of whose house you eat Thanksgiving dinner at, it’s nice to see your family again. Usually, it’s a core group of extended family members (usually a parent’s siblings and their kids), as well as a few familial groups that come for Thanksgiving dinner. For my Irish family, each group brings a dish that’s specifically associated with them (such as aunt Susie’s casserole). When I visited my Italian extended family, the host cooked everything… and didn’t stop. Last time, a ham roast went into the oven at 10:00 p.m.
Dinner isn’t spent saying what we’re thankful for, as often televised, but rather complimenting the food, the chefs, and reminiscing about the times a family member was there for us. It’s more genuine, and is a good reminder that family is forever (or at least until you admit that you hate Susie’s casserole). After dinner, the adults usually talk and drink, or drink and watch the a football game. Regardless of the planning, Thanksgiving is always an event to look forward to and the leftovers are ideal for a mini fridge.