Let me tell you what I knew about American Thanksgiving Day before coming to USA:
- Turkey is a must on the table. Not only is it big enough to feed a whole family, but also to fit onto someone’s head to scare friends. If you are of Italian heritage, you might consume a whole turkey on a dare, in which case it’s a good idea to get maternity pants.
- Potatoes can come in many varieties: mashed potatoes with lumps (like Ross’ mom makes), potatoes whipped with peas and onions, and tater tots to name a few.
- Cranberry sauce must be pretty easy to make if even Chandler can handle it.
- No celebration is complete without people fighting, getting offended and bringing up the oldest quarrels, but in the end love wins.
If you didn’t catch it until now, my whole knowledge of Thanksgiving was based on my favorite TV-show Friends. Don’t judge me, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Russia – I had to educate myself by any means available.
Most of Americans don’t think twice what to do on Thanksgiving Day. But when people ask me, “What are your plans for Thanksgiving?” I find myself in an awkward position explaining that I don’t really have any plans… none whatsoever. My family is in another country and I have never celebrated it anyways.
I have recently come across an article “The Joy of Taking in Thanksgiving Strays” by Sarah Grey on Saveur in which she says,
“Of all the Thanksgiving traditions—the turkey, the family gatherings, the football games—perhaps the warmest for me is taking in strays: welcoming people to the Thanksgiving table who don’t have family nearby, or don’t ordinarily celebrate the holiday.
For most of us, Thanksgiving is just part of what it means to be American. But for visitors and immigrants to the United States, it’s all unfamiliar.”
I am a lucky girl who, for two years in a row, was a Thanksgiving stray and loved it immensely. For those, like me, seeking to join a local celebration but feeling awkward about saying it straight forward, I have a few tips. Whenever somebody asks you about your plans for Thanksgiving, make sad eyes, sigh and say that you don’t have any family here and you miss them so much. Then let your eyes lit up with a tiny sparkle and energetically explain how much you would love to experience this wonderful American tradition. Then wait. People here are so kindhearted they will invite you to be a part of their holiday gathering.
That’s exactly how I tricked a girl I had just met into cooking a Thanksgiving dinner last year. This time my friend Sara invited me to celebrate Thanksgiving day at her mother’s house. This was, by far, the biggest family gathering I have seen with 26 people around the table.
Being an outsider at a family gathering is definitely a slightly awkward experience at first, especially when over 20 people are involved: you are desperately trying to remember all the names and how people are related. But at the same time, feeling genuinely welcome by people who have never met you and realizing they are willing to make you a part of their family tradition before you could even introduce yourself is incredible. The feeling of being preapproved, you know?
Before sitting down to have lunch we say a prayer, not in perfect unison, with voices stumbling and falling off and trying to catch up, but I, for one, don’t know one prayer (the consequences of being born in atheist Soviet Union). Praying as a family amazes me. Then comes my favorite part: saying what you are grateful for.
Being grateful is important to me. I am not writing it because this blog post is about Thanksgiving. It took me a while to realize that nobody owes me anything in this world. And if people choose to help me, say a nice word to me, do a good thing without asking anything in return, it’s not because I deserved it, but because they are kindhearted. So I am grateful. But expressing gratefulness is not something most of us are good at.
I love that at least once per year people here take a moment to stop and think what they are thankful for. When my turn comes, and twenty five pairs of eyes are looking at me expectantly, I know what I want to say. I am thankful for my friends Sara and Jeremy who invited me to break bread with their family, Sara’s mother Terri who let me into her house with a warm smile and everybody at the table for accepting me and making me feel at home. And, as always, I am grateful for my unpredictable life that doesn’t cease to surprise me. Celebrating Thanksgiving Day – and of all places, in Texas – was never on my agenda.
In the same article Sarah Grey mentions:
“For me, taking in strays is more than a way to extend hospitality—it’s a chance to gain an outside perspective, embracing new traditions while expanding the old ones.”
As an outsider, I can name a few things that surprised me at the Thanksgiving table. Like stuffing that, despite the name, is not stuffed anywhere but is eaten along with other dishes.
Like cranberry sauce that comes in cylinder shape and can be sliced.
Like the fact that yams and marshmallows are mixed up in one dish.
I guess, what I am trying to say is when you have a chance to take in Thanksgiving strays like me, go for it! You will show them a whole new world and, in return, you will get a new perspective and, possibly, a great friendship.
By the way, Catholic Christmas is another holiday when I don’t have any plans, because Christmas in Russia is celebrated on the 7th of January. Just saying, you know…
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