Thanksgiving, the holiday everyone waits for each year in the United States, is just around the corner. Most people would agree that it is a time of giving thanks or being thankful for what one has. And while the origin of the festival lies in the 1600s, today, Thanksgiving is all about vacation, football, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, Black Friday and of course food, family and traditions, at least for Indian American Millennials. Hence, not so different from rest of America, but with the ethnic trappings so much a part of the more recent immigrant cultures.
When pilgrims came to the United States seeking religious freedom, they were taught many ways to survive in this new home by the Native Americans, and that was what they were thanking the original inhabitants of this continent. Back then it was really a feast more than a holiday, but now institutionalized in the American fabric, the festival has become one if not the most embraced of holidays by all cultures in this multi-ethnic country.
Although back then, these were not the “United States” – in fact there was no name for the land which at the time was occupied by those Christopher Columbus deemed to call “Indians.”
Ironically, hundreds of years later, close to 4 million of the relatively new “Indians” from the South Asian subcontinent, have now made this their home. And a new generation of them has come to play an increasingly important role in the public and private domains. News India Times spoke to several of the younger generation of Indian-Americans about what Thanksgiving truly means to them.
For Sadas Jaffer, 34, of Montgomery County, New Jersey, Thanksgiving is all about “coming together and pausing.”
“I feel that it is important to pause at a time like this since we are always busy with work and school,” she told News India Times in a phone interview.
Jaffer says she likes to spend Thanksgiving with her family and friends, “it depends each year, sometimes I spend it with my parents, and sometimes I spend it with my in-laws, sometimes with my friends.”
When asked if she had any special traditions, she said, “We like to mix it up every year. My husband is the chef and he makes turkey biryani, where you basically cook the biryani with the turkey.”
Jaffer also added that “We should think about the history of the United States” and acknowledge the contributions of Native Americans. “It shouldn’t just be about the people that came here but about the people that were here already.”
Bharati Ganesh thinks the same way adding that the first Thanksgiving feast was an important part of building “Colonial” America. Also, “though significant, it is something large on a small platform. We should look at history through different lenses.”
The high school senior from West Windsor, New Jersey celebrates the holiday by getting together with family.
“I have a large extended family, so we aren’t able to get together as much as we would like, throughout the year. We try to get together on the day of Thanksgiving or sometime during that weekend,” Ganesh told News India Times. On their Thanksgiving table, one finds pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes rubbing shoulders with the traditional Indian food.
“We are a beautiful combination of Indian and American,” Ganesh said, adding that her family likes to blend their different heritages together, allowing them to have a “fusion” Thanksgiving. “We watch football while the women cook, and have Indian music playing in the background.”
Rachit Choksi also likes to spend the holiday with family. “As a kid I always saw Thanksgiving as an opportunity for a day off and we would sometimes take a long trip but as the years went by my family and I ended up adopting the traditional way of celebrating it. It’s like we are growing with the U.S,” Choksi said. Today, the New Jersey resident goes to a cousin’s house to spend Thanksgiving, where they usually have a big meal.
“For me, during Thanksgiving, we have our traditional Gujarati food, but for my fiancée who grew up in Georgia, she has traditional Southern food with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce,” Choksi said.
Choksi thinks that the history behind the holiday is complicated. “It’s not just about a big feast. It’s about colonization, abuse and racial inequality.”
But Sidhant Athilat, a college student from Westborough, Massachusetts, disagrees.
“As an Indian American, thinking about the history behind Thanksgiving continues to make me feel forever grateful of the opportunities and people that have presented them to me from my academic life to my social life,” Athilat says. “Thanksgiving Day was initially observed to celebrate a new beginning between Native Americans and the pilgrims. In other words, it was a beginning of a peaceful era between two individual groups,” he said.
Athilat added that every year, his family hosts Thanksgiving. “We have a large gathering of family (and) friends at our house where each guest brings a Thanksgiving-related dish varying from mashed potatoes to cream corn.”
For Ushma Patadia of Connecticut, “Thanksgiving means spending time with friends and family and reflecting on what I’m grateful for. Usually we get together with family friends for dinner and watch movies together.” Her family likes making apple crisp for dessert and topping it off with ice cream.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City, draws everyone’s attention as a major event on that day. No matter where in the country one lives, it is a treat to watch the parade.
Jaffer said that she watches it sometimes and that “as a kid I loved seeing Snoopy,” which is also Ganesh’s favorite. She remembers going to watch the parade with her parents in 2008 and still watches the parade on TV today.
Choksi said that if he wakes up early enough then he likes to drink his chai or coffee while watching the parade. “The level of creativity that goes into the parade is just amazing,” he said.
It is also something the whole family can enjoy together – watching the parade has become somewhat of a tradition with families.
The same cannot be said of Black Friday which some Indian-American millennials like and others don’t enjoy. Ganesh and Jaffer enjoy shopping with other family members. Choksi stays away.
“Stores are just taking the advantage of the holiday, enticing them with deals. It just takes away time from the family,” Choksi believes. Yet, since he got engaged and his fiancee likes to take in the sales, he joins his fiancee’s family. It is a “great shopping experience if you want to stand around for long time,” he submits.
Patadia agrees with Choksi. “Black Friday seems stressful with all the crowds; I usually just do Cyber Monday,” which involves shopping online.
In the ultimate analysis, all agreed that the essence of Thanksgiving was spending time together, whether it be at home or at the mall, and appreciating it.
“We must cherish the people who’ve surrounded us with their love and support because that is the biggest gift that we all must be grateful for,” said Athilat. “As an Indian American, Thanksgiving is not any different than how any other individual living in the U.S. perceives it. It is a time of giving and thanking everybody who has played a huge role in our lives in helping us become who we are today and for guiding us to our success,” Athilat adds.
And as Patadia sums it up, “Being an Indian American, Thanksgiving is fun because there’s so much I’m grateful for from both Indian and American cultures!”