By Lisa Schutz-Bentaieb
It was the last Thursday of November 2009, Thanksgiving Day. I was motivated to make my children a proper Thanksgiving dinner, since they had never experienced the all-American tradition. It has been hard to hold on to family traditions while living overseas for the last ten years, but although some customs are lost or warped, new ones from other cultures have happily become a patchwork of current family traditions. Nevertheless, for my own peace of mind, I needed to at least expose my four young children to this holiday tradition.
Americans have plenty of so-called “hallmark holidays,” on which they celebrate anything and everything: Mother's Day, Father's Day, Halloween, Valentine's Day, National Secretaries Day, Children's Day and my personal favourite, National Grammar Day. Of course, in true American fashion, there are greeting cards galore, themed gadgets and gizmos and loads of décor to properly mark the occasion. There are so many of these “holidays,” in fact, that it is dizzying! Some holidays, however, never lose their importance; Thanksgiving is one of them. Celebrated by families of all races, backgrounds and religions, Thanksgiving Day is marked by an elaborate Thursday meal, football matches and a long weekend of massive parades with elaborate floats and marching bands.
So, what is the idea behind Thanksgiving? Although there are many ideas about how the first Thanksgiving Dinner was celebrated, most Americans believe it to be the first meal during which early American settlers and Native American Indians broke bread together under peaceful terms. From the history books I read as a young, Midwestern schoolgirl, their menu comprised an elaborate spread of the fruits of the land—wild game turkey, fall vegetables and a dessert of seasonal fruit. The intent of Thanksgiving today is not to replicate this meal; it is following the Pilgrims' example of sitting down together with family and friends to partake in a meal of thanks. There it is…THANKS! Thankfulness is all relative but, nevertheless, thanks. Sure, it could be thankfulness for wealth and riches earned via a healthy stock portfolio or wild success found via the fruits of labour, but mostly, it is thanks for all that God has given us—health, home, family and friends.
After significant meal preparation and careful consideration as to how to make this Thanksgiving both interesting and engaging for my four children, the table was set with the finest the Bentaieb household had to offer. No guests were invited because of my fears about improperly cooking the beast and timing its fixings. With the excitement of preparation and help from my eldest to youngest, it was clear that something good was in the works. No one would have been able to guess in what direction this would lead.
In today's culture of abundance, many families use Thanksgiving as a tool to get back to the basics and remember all that we have (and all that we can give). Some families ask their children to come to the Thanksgiving dinner table with a list of things for which they are thankful. I decided to take the more spontaneous route, opting for fresh, innocent and untainted accounts of my children's thankfulness. As I expected, their responses were sweet, loving and, at times, a bit silly. In addition to being thankful for food, clothing, lodging, transportation, Hamleys and education, they were overwhelmingly grateful for my blind father's guide dog, Intrigue. They were also appreciative of ‘mansaf’ (Jordan’s traditional dish), hair and eyebrows, sushi, paint, footballs, thunderstorms, turtles, tennis…the list seemed endless. It was gratifying and refreshing, however, to see the enthusiasm of their thankfulness
When I explained Thanksgiving to the children, the immediate response of Alexandre, my eldest, was that of bewilderment. He found the holiday to be such a wonderful idea that he was saddened to learn it was celebrated only one time a year. He begged me to begin a monthly Thanksgiving—not only for the tasty food, but to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are. Regardless of the painful logistics of the Thanksgiving feast, I had no other option but to concede.
Nearly a year has passed since then. Even with our busy lives, we have managed to cling to our new-found tradition as ambassadors of the Thanksgiving spirit. Our friends now happily help us celebrate every month by joining us around a table at which we laugh, reflect and give thanks. Although we still reflect on the things we are grateful for, we have shifted the theme slightly to be a Thanks for Giving feast, discussing the contributions—both large and small—that we can make.
Sure, there is the occasional difficulty in locating the “turkey of the month,” but I have managed to convince local grocers that there is no season for turkey—it's not just a November meat anymore. And, as a purveyor of fine cuisine (though I am far from Martha Stewart) I amuse myself with variations on the vegetable dishes that accompany the bird.
For our family, a new tradition has been created by tweaking old traditions, making the Thanksgiving feast more frequent, but nonetheless full of meaning!