A young boy, sat at a table full of people he didn’t know. A large family, all helping to make their thanksgiving dinner. Smells and laughter waft through the house. No television to distract from the face-to-face interaction. All the food is scratch made. The kitchen is littered with bits and pieces of dishes and ingredients, a messy labor of love. The smiles and plate passing keep the energy up. The boy is confused, there is no turkey, but a large plate of chitlins, and a ham. There aren’t any scalloped potatoes, but collard greens. As much as Thanksgiving is a universal experience, it differs house to house, culture to culture. This is a short story about how he came to know his neighbors.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the abundant amount of food we eat on Thanksgiving. In fact, I look forward to it every year. It’s one of my favorite holidays. But it’s more than just the food.
There are two reasons why Thanksgiving matters to me. The first reason begins when I was a child, we spent every Thanksgiving at my grandparents house in Brooklyn. My Sicilian grandmother barely spoke English and my grandfather had always been a quiet man; however, once the whole family with cousins, Aunts and Uncles were in the room, it had been a festive event of chortling and great food in a tiny apartment with one bathroom and approximately twenty-five of us.
Thanksgiving isn’t just food, family, football, and Black Friday. Not that there’s anything wrong with stuffing yourselves and your loved ones and then heading for the couch and TV or the shopping mall. All are fine American traditions celebrating the abundance in our lives, topped off with delicious left overs. But they seem more removed than ever from the holiday’s intended purpose.
That purpose was demonstrated at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service held at Pilgrim Congregational Church. We sat in the pews listening to the harmonies of a choir made up of talented congregants from faith groups across the city. The graceful music surrounded and filled us as religious leaders representing Baha’i, Catholic, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant communities offered prayers and poems of gratitude and compassion.
We came to America without a clue
When November rolled around and Thanksgiving, too
Stories of refugees sailing in hope
The Mayflower and Plymouth Rock – Who knew!
They fled from the British
but wasn’t that us?
Just listen to this little girl’s
vocab of therefore and thus
I’d never seen a turkey, no drumstick or wing
Never saw a pumpkin or eaten a pie
My eyes got bigger and my ears perked up
I knew the tune I heard them sing
My country tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
but the words were all wrong
cause it’s an English song
“God save our gracious queen
God save the Queen”
We’d come from Bermuda to be a Jew
Religious freedom and expression, too
Where seldom was heard
A Hebrew prayer or word
Now we sit down together
for the best feast ever
Embracing a new life, a diverse one, with pleasure
Giving thanks for our differences and our joy beyond measure.