When my family immigrated to this country we didn’t have the slightest idea what Thanksgiving was. In the past my parents might of heard of “El dia del pavo”, but had never celebrated it.
Coming to a new country, with new holidays, language, culture and traditions, can be difficult for many immigrants. It is a time for nostalgia for your old country, loneliness, but above all for new beginnings.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I am reminded of those first few years in “America” in which I learned the history behind Thanksgiving, but also of starting new traditions.
Have you ever wondered where your family traditions come from? Why your family celebrates Thanksgiving or doesn’t celebrate? I have.
So I decided to call up my mom and her life long friend, and ask them to help me remember back to those first years in which our families began to celebrate Thanksgiving together. You see, I have fond memories of Thanksgiving as a child, in which our friends would gather around a small crowded apartment and eat turkey dinner in laughter and cheer.
My mom and her friend Priscilla met many, many years ago, before kids and grand kids ruled their lives. But it was their friendship and their love of family and togetherness that drove two families together.
When I asked them why they decided to start celebrating Thanksgiving together, even though we weren’t family, Priscilla said “I had celebrated Thanksgiving with my family as a child, and as I grew up and had my own kids, we split apart. There were too many people, and we all started to celebrate on our own. But it was lonely; just us and our girls at home. The ambience is better when there’s people around. So we decided to invite your family, because, the more the merrier”
My mom had never cooked a turkey or made mashed potatoes from a box, or ever even made gravy. But that first year she learned to make gravy! It might have turned out a bit clumpy, but it didn’t matter. Mostly because it was about the experience of togetherness. Til’ this day, my mom makes our family’s gravy, and it’s delicious (no clumps now)!
When I asked my mom why she liked celebrating Thanksgiving when we had never known about this holiday, she replied that, “It is a nice day. To say thanks, to be thankful for everything we have and the year we’ve had.”
You see, when we immigrated, my mom tried very hard to assimilate and crossover to a new culture. My closest friends have heard stories of my moms attempt at Chinese food, (tacos) and failed meatloaf (that’s a story for another day). But through it all, she wanted to make new memories, and new traditions for us to integrate into our new life.
Both of these women needed and wanted togetherness.
As I heard them on speaker talk about how my mom made clumpy gravy and laughed about it and cried about it, it made me feel as I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. Mostly, it made me miss those Thanksgivings with tortillas, salsa, boxed mashed potatoes, and loud crowded spaces and eating in shifts.
But, like many things in life, they change.
Our families grew, kids got married and we couldn’t continue our Thanksgiving tradition. Those first few years alone with our own family in our own home, were sad. My mom and Priscilla would call each other during dinner, just to hear each others voices. We would wish each other a happy Thanksgiving over the phone and try to hear the commotion on the other side.
It’s been over 20 years since we last had a Thanksgiving with the Sanchez family, but those years made a huge impact on me. Because of the strong relationship our mother’s had, our families spent many years celebrating “everything” together. Because of their first few attempts to learn, cook and make dinner for us, we now hold the baton and can pass it to our kids.
I distinctly remember one of the first years we spent alone. My sister and I were in charge of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Somehow we ended up with a buttered turkey on the floor, phoning our mother at work in tears.
But that’s how new traditions are built, that’s how we pass along our stories. When I tell my children about my memories and our families stories, it brings smiles to their faces. They get to see the excitement in my eyes as I recall the story. Just like I heard it in the voice of my mom and her friend, this is what I want to pass on; our old traditions, and make new ones too.
Thanksgiving continues to be such an important holiday for both our families. It is a time for togetherness, fun, playing games, music, catching up, cooking, eating, and being thankful. Most of all, being thankful.
Where do your family traditions come from?