Thanksgiving is the second most celebrated holiday in the U.S and this year I celebrated my 17th holiday here in the U.S! According to a study done by Ohio State, 1 out of 8 people don't celebrate Thanksgiving every year (http://newspolls.org/articles/19586). This means every year more than 40.5 million in the U.S spend the day doing other things. Although there are no studies on what percent of this population is immigrant, there are many immigrants who skip this holiday altogether for different reasons such as unfamiliarity with the tradition, resistance in adopting parts of the new culture or simply working an extra shift to supplement the income.
Thinking back, I still remember my first Thanksgiving 2 months after I arrived. Even though my aunt hosted a big party with many Iranians all sharing their immigration story with me, I felt very lonely. I was reminded of the family I left behind. The holidays that I wouldn’t get to celebrate with them anymore. I was especially more emotional because my birthday was on the same day and it was my first one after 19 years of being with my big family in Iran. Even though I was very emotional, I noticed how the celebration was unique in very many ways.
From what I had heard during the initial two months, Thanksgiving was a tradition celebrated by close family members in sharing a feast and being thankful for the blessings they have in life. Just like the pilgrims, most immigrants I saw didn’t have family here in the U.S., so they created their own. A family that was not related by blood but one that was connected by culture, language, background, hardships, resilience, and strength. The recipes were not passed down from grandmothers but rather a fusion of what it looked in the magazines and the favorite recipes from home. No one experienced it as a childhood tradition with a memory to share, but they were all making it a tradition for themselves and for kids to remember!
17 years later, I’m still celebrating Thanksgiving the same way I did at my Aunt's. Not only I know more about it than I did back in 2001, but also I chose to make it my own tradition. These years, I have celebrated Thanksgiving 17 different ways with 17 different groups of people; from a party of 50 people to one with my family of 3. Whether there was a giant turkey on the table or a little Cornish hen, our table was filled with love and gratitude for the people we got to share it with, for the friendships we developed and the memories we build together.
Sometimes I wonder whether I would have known it the same way if I entered into a household that was resistant to change? One that condemned those who embraced the new culture by creating a cross-culture holiday? How would it impact my perception?
Some of us immigrants can get tangled in what's the origin of an event and who do we become after embracing a new culture that we lose sight of what are the opportunities.
With a full acceptance, there is no boundary around what one's culture is. I personally celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays as much as I do Nowrooz, Chaharshanbehsoori, Yalda night, and other Iranian cultural holidays. I prefer to be inclusive of other traditions and enjoy the new friendships that sprout from it. For me culture is about bringing traditions together rather than separating and judging.
At our home:
We bring our own taste and culture to the newly adopted traditions to make it our own.
We remove religion and politics from any event because it can create hostility and tension. In our house, we have a deep respect for every individual in the world.
We base our holidays on Fun and enjoyment. We celebrate every occasion we can once we know enough about it!
We believe world need more acceptance and inclusivity instead of judgment.
Happy Thanksgiving and beyond...
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