Thanksgiving. I love the word. I love the tradition. I realize it may sound corny to some American-born readers of this blog. I know Thanksgiving family reunions can turn into major logistical, psychological, or even political, headaches. But that’s not what comes to my immigrant mind when I think of this holiday.
What strikes me about Thanksgiving I that it is so quintessentially American while not particularly patriotic. Every country, I suppose, has a national day that commemorates a pivotal moment in its history, like the 4th of July. Thanksgiving, in contrast, is about the people of this country — well most of them, as I realize Native Americans have their own perspective. I would venture to say its connection to Americanness goes much deeper than Independence Day or any another holiday celebrated here.
The rituals of Thanksgiving showcase traditional American values: the importance of family and close-knit communities, togetherness, warmth, industriousness, gratefulness, and… the propensity to serve dinner way too early. My personal experience of Thanksgiving has been diverse but there is a common thread. It has allowed me to understand Americanness in an intimate, more textured, way.
My first Thanksgiving dinners were in the posh Upper East Side house of a corporate lawyer I worked with as a banker. She had made a habit of inviting foreign guests in addition to her family and a couple of long-time friends. That made for a broad array of backgrounds and stimulating conversations.
My husband and I have also been regular Thanksgiving guests of dear friends in Chicago. Jean and Dick, now in their 80s, share Appa‘s alma mater and they met him not long after he moved to America. For several decades they have engaged warmly and meaningfully with foreign students and alumni and, by doing so, they have grown a multicultural family of their own. We are glad to be members of that family and we always look forward to our melting-pot Thanksgiving reunions.
Here in Cleveland we have also been the delighted guests of our Polish American friends and enjoyed the Slavic vibe of their celebration. Last year we finally got to host our own Thanksgiving dinner. It meant a lot to us, not least because of who was there. My parents had decided to visit us around that time, braving Cleveland’s cold season. A couple of dear American friends and a whole family of close Cleveland-based French friends also joined us. Together we ate the traditional dishes and we sang Turkey Dinner to the tune of Brother Jacob with the children. A memorable day for our family.
Thanksgiving will be different for us this year, as we are traveling abroad. But it gives me the opportunity to reflect on this holiday and on the beauty of giving thanks – whether or not that involves religion. I am afraid gratefulness is not something we are very used to feeling or expressing in Old Europe. I believe it is a lesson I have learned from American people. And I am thankful for that.