Seven other nations celebrate Thanksgiving or a holiday akin to it. Whether you’re sitting down to a stuffing-ladened turkey in the USA or if you’re eating a special banana dish in the Norfolk Islands, the premise is the same: it’s a time to give thanks and to enjoy the fruits of our labor, which historically have been a successful harvest.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are no gifts, but there are stories. Aunts and Uncles gather around a table and speak of memories from the “old days”, when they lived in the “old house” and all the kids shared the same bedroom. They giggle about the time when someone went outside to the privy in the middle of the night and was almost bitten by a rattle snake. They confess to things like when my mom hid underneath the porch with her brother and they pulled the heads off her dolls to see what was inside. They laugh at us “younger” generation and how we have no patience or respect. We let our kids get away with murder (as the saying goes) and employ these newfangled parenting techniques like time-out or the punishment corner.
“Spare the rod…” someone starts.
“…and spoil the child,” someone else always finishes.
A chorus of “umhmm” erupts.
Everyone takes a turn at being the subject of laughter for awhile. Like the time my cousin snuck off to school with her mom’s high heels on only to have my Aunt appear in her classroom to retrieve them. Or the phase I went through when no one could tell me that bright red lipstick was not my color. (Those photos have been burned and buried.)
But whether you’re being laughed at or you’re laughing at someone else, you feel the love. It flows around the table like the scent of sweet potato pie. For this one moment everyone’s together, and that means something.
We weren’t the family to start our meal by taking turns to recite what we were grateful for. We prayed. Usually my Uncle said a very long and tear-provoking prayer. We amen-ed, and then set about enjoying the fruits of our labor, the laughter quickly returning.
The last time I had a Thanksgiving like that was in November of 2000. I was moving to Japan the following January, and my family traveled to my mom’s to see me off. I was prayed over, hands were laid on me, but mostly I remember our joy at being together again.
Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday in Singapore. My husband worked, but I still made a dinner with a few dishes from the “good old days”. I sat at the table with my two daughters, and before we could join hands my eldest had already put a spoonful in her mouth. I explained to her that from now on we will start our Thanksgiving meal by reciting what we are grateful for (or what makes us happy given she’s just three-years-old).
She looked confused and so I went first. I told her that she made me happy. Then I asked if she remembered the time she was in the school play and she wore a chicken costume? I told her watching her dance the chicken dance and singing in Mandarin with her classmates made me happy.
She laughed and said, “That was fun, right?”
She didn’t quite get it, but that’s ok. I was planting seeds. I was creating the first of our Thanksgiving memories.
As we ate, I thought of my Mom, and knew she missed me the way that I will one day miss mine. I thought of my Aunts and Uncles and their stories that my children won’t hear. I thought of my friend who is having her first Thanksgiving without her mom. And another friend who is having a quiet Thanksgiving because her son just had surgery. I thought of the empty space at the table my husband’s absence created because he was still at work… so that I could be at home.
And I was thankful.