By Divya Swami Attri
Mildly surprised by her curious tone, I gave her a quizzical look, trying to decipher her possible concern. As she went into an explanation mode, giving me all and sundry details of her day at school, it turned out, that it was “the question of the day,” a part of her homework. Every student in her class had to speak about this topic the next day, a share-segment, for the Morning Meeting Activity. The exact answer to her question flashed upon my mind immediately. But to the tell a second grader to go and say in front of her class that, “ we do NOT have any family traditions for Thanksgiving and therefore I will not participate in the discussion”, was a heartbreaking thought!
As trivial as it may be, I chose not to reveal the fact. Instead, I concocted an impromptu and an ‘instant tradition’ (‘instant’- is my magic mantra these days) for our family on Thanksgiving, which she could share with her classmates, inflating her with confidence about it all. My daughter went to school the next morning, assured and certain in her mind. However, it left me pondering with many questions that many of us migrants often have to deal with. Should one remain oblivious to the local culture of the place you are currently living in or adhere faithfully to your inherent culture, or try to be the all-inclusive, embracing types, taking both of them in your stride?
After living in three different continents and four different countries in a span of nine years, it felt like going on perpetual cultural absorption, assimilation and preservation spree around the globe! Life has been an assortment of myriad socio-cultural experiences, a mixture of adapting the new fronts, and harboring the old values.
Since the ‘instant tradition’ had been already established, I preferred to stay with an ‘all-embracing’ frame of mind. In retrospect, in all the previous years that we have been living on the American soil, Thanksgiving for me was only about being thankful for the long weekend. Frankly, there was a lot to like about this rather humbling American tradition. The idea to allot a day in your calendar primarily to express a feeling of gratitude towards whomever one may wish is indeed a noble one.
Thanksgiving remains outside the realms of over commercialization and unlike other festivals; it has nothing much to do with elaborate ritualistic and the materialistic aspects of gifts, costumes, or decorations. The celebration is simple and undemanding, it is mainly about getting together as a family or with friends, having an elaborate meal (Turkey being the special ingredient), and thanking God (the pilgrims and the harvest) but also expressing gratitude in general to family, friends, pets, house or anything else.
As a typical desi family, we are more of a God-thanking people than human thanking. In innumerable ways, we thank God many times a day. However, in the daily parlance used at our home, the word ‘thank you’ comes in the grandiloquent category. Knitted in a secure and a strong relationship, we tend to take each other for granted, which has a charm of its own.
Nevertheless, the gratifying experience of a personal acknowledgement by heartfelt kind words of thanks is irreplaceable. Moreover, I genuinely believe that each one of us is worth the honor at least once a year. A holiday like Thanksgiving, will give us an opportunity to focus on the spirit of gratitude. It will also give us another reason to add, in the repertoire of the many celebrations that we are now accustomed.
So how am I going to celebrate Thanksgiving this year? We will keep it simple. We will cook a sumptuous meal, and with tenderness in heart and humility in mind, will answer the question –‘What are you Thankful for?’
Divya is an art teacher, wife and a mom of two children living in Princeton, New Jersey. When she’s not teaching art, she’s in the kitchen concocting new recipes or slouching over her laptop trying to give her writing ideas a life. Divya’s articles have been published in international magazines such as India Abroad, Tribune India and India Post.
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