My Voice - 2019


The Different Shades of Thanksgiving

By Shivani Tripathi

Thanksgiving can bring people together in such a lovely and sincere manner. Unlike Christmas where there is much pressure of gift-giving, Thanksgiving focuses more on sharing time with loved ones over a heavy helping of delicious food. Food is an expression of identity, of one's history and even of one's beliefs.

My own family has experimented with Thanksgiving themes and dishes, which depended a lot on who all was willing to cook, and even some years has picked up food from a nice grocery store or restaurant. As a school kid when asked what I ate for Thanksgiving, it wasn't easy to describe homemade chole bhature, which was a fun dish my family would often enjoy on holidays. One year my family tried cooking a more traditional meal. Choosing to cook a chicken, as a turkey would be too large a project, my parents asked the butcher at our grocery store how to prepare the bird. My mostly vegetarian parents winged it and in the pre-internet era of easy tutorials, the result was a super dry chicken which we had to pour hot sauce on for flavor. It was our first and last attempt to cook a whole avian.

Since then we've had holiday dinners that were a fusion of cuisines, or even a cooked-from-scratch Italian spread but the never-fail plan would inevitably be take-out from an Indian establishment that was open on the day (and would be slammed with orders). Recently some Indian eateries, on which many relied on for dinner when majority of establishments were shuttered, have started closing saying they too need a break! The more memorable Thanksgivings we've spent together involved family members going around the table saying three things they are thankful for, which would bring both laughter and tears of joy to the meal.

When visiting home isn't possible, celebrating Friendsgiving with close pals warms the heart just as much. I remember Friendsgiving being especially common when I was attending graduate school in Connecticut, as a fair number of students were from overseas. Their enviable holiday spread looked like the most delicious UN meeting ever with cuisine from Iran, Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, India, Brazil and others. Today, social media posts of creative recipes and colorful Thanksgiving spreads show what gatherings of family and friends means when expressed through food.

A fascinating mixture is often on display when South Asian flavors enhance what are considered traditional Thanksgiving foods such as turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie into tandoori turkey, jeera mashed potatoes, cranberry chutney and pumpkin halwa! With friends and family bringing dishes to contribute to the festivities, appetizers, main dishes and desserts can be from any part of the globe or simply reflect a person's curiosity in trying a new recipe, or the desire to introduce people to a cherished family dish. The beautiful notion in all this is that families across America celebrate being American in ways that are special and meaningful to them.

What Thanksgiving means to the Indian American community comes in many forms. Similar to Christmas, on Thanksgiving Day many Indian American households choose to treat it as a more typical weekend which may involve going to Indian grocers or watching an Indian movie in a theater. But more and more families are creating their own definition of the holiday by incorporating regional dishes in the Thanksgiving spread, and including specialties which speak to their familial history and interests.

Food, Family, and Parades

The origin of how Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States dates back to 1621 in Massachusetts when Pilgrims celebrated the fall harvest with Native Americans. This event ultimately honors different cultures sharing something very special together: a meal. Today it's less about Pilgrims and Natives, and more about food, family and watching Thanksgiving Day parades (whether in their town or on television) and even readying for Black Friday shopping. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is start of Christmas shopping season and encourages early risers to nab the best deals on most everything from electronics to toys to clothing.

Many Desi aunties and uncles compare notes on where they found great bargains, and often gloat about finding a better deal than their peers. Thankfully there has been pushback on Black Friday creeping into Thanksgiving Day, as many retailers were opening shop and advertising bargains on Thursday itself! America is fully immersed in the autumn season which in many regions means cozy sweaters, trees shedding their colorful leaves and families preparing to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. School children make turkey-shaped decorations as art projects, adults try to tie loose ends at work before millions across North America board planes, trains and automobiles, making it the time of year when most Americans travel.

Whether it's being thankful for family, friends, good food, one's Indian heritage and the freedom and opportunities the United States provides, taking a moment to count your blessings is certainly the best way to celebrate this great American holiday.

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Shivani Tripathi cannot remember a time she wasn't madly in love with Indian cinema and writing. She spends time in New York, North Carolina and Twitterpur at @Shivani510