I love Thanksgiving. Not only for all the obvious reasons.
Though I have to admit, the combination of turkey and cranberry sauce is enough to send me into paroxysms of joy.
Yet there is more to this feeling of warmth and contentment than being fortunate enough to enjoy a good meal with close friends. I am an immigrant, and an Israeli one at that, which means that there aren’t too many other holidays in which I can share so completely. There’s the fourth of July, of course. But the fireworks last all of fifteen minutes and no one cares what I’m preparing for dinner. Not being from here originally also means that I want a truly traditional Thanksgiving menu. I expect the orange landscape of yams to be dotted with snowy marshmallows, and the mashed potatoes need to be fluffy as clouds. I know there should be a green bean casserole somewhere on the table but I don’t know how to make one, and there should definitely be walnuts in the stuffing. And of course – the cranberries should look like they came out of the can in which they had been ensconced – that way I am assured that no one has tried anything fancy or trendy to mar my immigrant notion of cranberries. In short, I want a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving as I celebrate this most American of holidays.
This is not to say that I don’t enjoy our own cultural traditions. I prepare for our Passover meal with as much enthusiasm, and come Hanukah I love inviting non Jewish friends to light candles and eat deep fried sufganiot (jelly doughnuts) so they can share in our celebrations. Yet I know that if I’m not quick enough, the boxes of Matza will disappear from the shelves and Hanukah candles may not even be ordered by store managers. The young employee I track down in one of the aisles will have no idea what I mean when I ask for anything relating to Hanukah, despite my attempt to pronounce it in the most American accent I can muster. By the time I arrive at the checkout counter disappointed in what I couldn’t find, I’m less inclined to be understanding when the cashier asks whether I’ve got my Christmas tree yet. Unlike my husband who replies with a simple no, I feel compelled to explain why it is that I do not. Yet declaring that I don’t celebrate Christmas is always met with a look that is a cross between pity and sheer incredulity at the idea that I am deprived of this oh so magical holiday. And magical it is. From the twinkling lights in our neighbors’ windows, to the sound of Christmas carols I can’t help but hum along with, there is definitely enchantment in the air. When our kids were mere toddlers I took them downtown Davis to see the nativity scene and to sip hot cider, and a few years later they participated in our town’s musical theater and were part of the tree lighting ceremony. I wanted them to know what people around us were celebrating so they would understand that our traditions and way of life were not the only ones.
Yet despite our understanding and even fascination, I feel left out come December 25, when a hush falls over neighborhoods and the air seems electric with anticipation.
And this is why I love Thanksgiving, for the unifying quality it has that other holidays lack. I can look down the length of a beautifully set table, at the bounty prepared by hosts and guests alike. I take in the smiling faces of my children, the kindness in my husband’s eyes. I think of all the other families gathered around tables in homes all across town, and I am grateful.