Thanksgiving is one of the significant holidays in the United States calendar from both cultural and historical perspectives. It is a reminiscence of a bygone history which shed light to the clash of two civilizations, the new settlers, and the native American Red Indians. In the modern day, it is a moment we take the time to observe the history as well as a wonderful occasion where families and friends come together for a bountiful meal.
Abraham Lincoln was the first US president who declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday. Interestingly, he did so at America’s darkest moment amidst a civil war and he believed that the ritual of coming together and giving thanks could enliven a young democracy, repair a union and reclaim a shared humanity.
The Turkey is the prominent ingredient in the Thanksgiving culture at the table. Sometimes, it is fair to say without a Turkey some would say it is not thanksgiving. Leaving aside this gastronomical debate, I was invited for my first Thanksgiving by my neighbor Nagai-Rothe family who are third generation, Chinese immigrants. I am very grateful that I got the opportunity to observe this day with an amazing group of people. In essence, this thanksgiving dinner was unique, I believe, from an average Thanksgiving in America. Perhaps, there is a fair chance that I may be wrong but I feel this particular experience with Nagai-Rothe family was definitely exemplary for many families around the US for all the right reasons.
Foremost, unlike many thanksgiving tables, Nagai-Rothe family table was filled with vegan meals. Yes, it is a vegan Thanksgiving potluck style. The living room was filled with people from all faiths and walks of life. The sunset was so beautiful in the distance with the San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate bridge in the background. Soon we gathered for our first ritual that is to gather around the table for a special tradition that has been passed over generations within Nagai-Rothe family. A piece of paper passed onto everyone around the table, what was on the paper was in twenty different languages. It reads “enjoy the happy meal”. Everyone sung in a very beautiful poetic manner in one go. For Nagai-Rothe family, it is all about inclusion and their home doors and arms are wide open for people of multicultural backgrounds. I was not surprised to run into a gentleman from Kenya, a man from Nepal, a girl from Nepal raised in India, and many Americans who have traveled around the world embracing and learning about different cultures. Indeed, I never felt a moment of disconnection.
The next big highlight of the evening was that everyone gathered in the living room was asked to share what they were most grateful for. Also, what they have done/ does right now with their lives to make something permanent and blissful for everyone. Invariably, everyone in that room was a good Samaritan who was humble in their own way to have done something remarkable to make the world a better place. To highlight a few, an American filmmaker is fighting for justice and access to water in Malawi, a Kenyan Christian priest volunteered at a hospital and also reading about Buddhism to understand “The Damma Padha,” a young woman from Berkeley is actively working to build a homogenous community through Berkeley East Bay Thrive community.
What was most compassionate about the whole evening was that there were many people who spoke about the native Americans compassionately and made it a point to reflect on the ongoing gross atrocities that are taking place at this very moment at Standing Rock in Dakota. Thanksgiving has always been a day of mourning for native Americans and especially this thanksgiving will be even harder for them who are rightfully fighting for a basic form of human need, the “Water”
It was a wonderful evening full of connecting, sharing stories, sharing a bountiful delicious meal, singing songs, and playing games such as “celebrity”. Upon returning home that night I went into a silent reflection of the entire evening. Indeed I am happy to note that I was a part of a ceremony that a single turkey did not die at the expense of our meal as opposed to four million Turkey, are killed around the United States to make this single night a tradition. Also, I am happy to be a part of a circle who grieved together with the native Americans and by dedicating our Vegan Thanksgiving to all those at Standing Rock.