As I approach the first Thanksgiving I will spend away from my family, I can’t help but reflect on the holiday. Thanksgiving is perhaps the most American holiday there is. Take my aunt as an example: a 60-something unmarried woman, she uses Thanksgiving as the holiday for her core group of girlfriends to get together each year. This group of six women has remained the same, with the same traditions, every year for at least the last twenty years. They prepare an enormous quantity of food for a relatively small group of people; with at least four kinds of stuffing (vegetarian, cornbread, regular with sausage, and regular without sausage), three kinds of mashed potatoes, several preparations of turkey, multiple types of cranberry sauce, many sweet potato casseroles, various vegetables, and a plethora of desserts. It’s quite a feast in which each member gets to specify exactly what she wants to eat. And what could be more American than demanding that you get exactly what you want?
For me, Thanksgiving was never my favorite holiday, but it was always an enjoyable one. My immediate family (as in: my mom, dad, and I) used to celebrate Thanksgiving just us three. We bought the smallest turkey we could find, cooked what seemed like tiny quantities of each side dish, and had only one pie. Somehow, this miniscule feast was always enough food for us to be eating leftovers until after Christmas.
When I went away to Tufts, my perception of Thanksgiving changed dramatically. We began to celebrate with my grandparents, I was introduced to the idea of “friendsgiving,” and I didn’t connect the holiday I was celebrating with its true meaning. It became more a much needed break in the semester where I could go home, spend time with my cats, and sleep in a room without another person than a celebration to give thanks.
All jokes aside, at a superficial level, the intense commercialization of the Thanksgiving celebration, massive quantity of food, and increasingly early Black Friday sales shows off our consumerist, capitalist pride. The vast assortment of foods prepared reflects the diverse people that make up America, but also represents an assertion of our own personal desires. But we have to remember that Thanksgiving is more than just a big dinner or gateway to Christmas. Though the original Thanksgiving story is a problematic one for many people, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate all that is good in our lives; to be thankful for everything that we have.
Being abroad has given me some much needed time and space away from both the Tufts bubble and American culture, which has allowed me to analyze why we Americans do and celebrate the things we do. Recently I’ve been reminded that there are so many things in my life (large and small) that I am thankful for. Here’s a selection:
1. My family: for always supporting me, even when I told them I wanted to go to college on the other side of the country, and then spend a year in a foreign country on the other side of the ocean.
2. My host family: for welcoming me into their home, being extraordinarily patient, and providing me with everything I need to be happy here.
3. Cactus: some people know that I love cactus so much that I have painstakingly transported (via plane) my approximately 10-year-old cactus between Tufts and St. Louis four times. Having a cactus on my desk in Madrid has been a perfect reminder of home.
4. Running: because who knew something that can feel so bad while you’re doing it could feel so good?
5. Cats: though my host cats aren’t as cute and cuddly my cats at home, there’s nothing quite as comforting as having a car purr in your lap (the only thing more comforting might be a hug from your mom).