When I was a toddler, I loudly proclaimed that I wanted to cancel Thanksgiving because I was a VERY picky eater and did not like the smell of everything that was cooking.
By the age of 10, my parents were divorced, and Thanksgiving became less of a tradition and more of a mystery…we never knew how many Thanksgivings we would have, where we would go, or who we would spend it with.
At the impressionable age of 16, I got my first job as a nurse’s assistant in a nursing home, where I had the privilege to work with an incredibly talented and compassionate nurse who was half Cherokee Indian. As the holiday was approaching, she explained that she always volunteered to work on that holiday in protest of the grave inequalities that existed (and still exist) between Native Americans and their white counterparts. She felt it was not time to celebrate just yet. Her story woke me up to this reality, and in solidarity, I signed up to work on Thanksgiving as well and continued to do so for the remainder of my high school years, much to my family’s dismay.
Once I moved away and went to college, I worked for the university, so I always had Thanksgiving off. This meant I resumed the tradition of visiting family, but since my husband and I were a part of each other’s families by that time, it also meant we had more people to visit. Needless to say, it was a bit stressful to try to visit three to four families within a five day window, not to mention the six hour round-trip drive.
While I am still unhappy with the way we (Americans) tend gloss over the fact that Native Americans are still highly marginalized in our society and like to act like the original Thanksgiving meal was some kind of happy resolution to all of the colonialism and racism that still very much exists, I realize how much I didn’t appreciate the lighter parts of the holiday until it was out of my reach. I find myself feeling unexpectedly homesick every time it rolls around. I miss catching up with my family, cooking, eating, and driving back home vowing not to eat turkey again for at least a year.
This year, Thanksgiving happened to fall on the same day as a Turkish holiday – Teacher’s Day. You would think that two holidays would be better than one, but it ultimately just made me feel sad. I couldn’t get in the spirit of Teacher’s Day because my mind was on what I was missing. We came very close to just cancelling any plans for Thanksgiving, but luckily, one of our fellow yabancis rallied us together and invited us over for a late Thanksgiving.
She’s been in Turkey for six years now and her kids are Turkish-American, so she’s determined to keep the tradition going and she’s learned all the tricks of the trade. There was turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, a smorgasbord of amazing appetizers, and (my favorite!) pumpkin pie. Everything was incredible – especially considering I had gone two whole years without a traditional Thanksgiving meal! Best of all, we were surrounded by good company, which is what Thanksgiving has come to be about.