What do you think of when you hear "Thanksgiving"?
Perhaps this scene comes to mind: a freshly roasted turkey centered on a dining table. Surrounding this centerpiece is a banquet of side dishes such as fluffy mashed potatoes, candied cranberry sauce and mouthwatering stuffing. Family members, close and extended, are all gathered around this wonderful feast smiling and laughing, portraying the picturesque Thanksgiving meal in the United States.
Watch any movie about Thanksgiving, and this will be one of the highlights for the characters portrayed in the film. With how common this scene is portrayed in entertainment, it only makes sense, then, that this is the normative experience for any individual during Thanksgiving. At the very least, this is what a proper Thanksgiving is, with anything else being a cheap mockery of it.
But this has never been my Thanksgiving experience.
Every Thanksgiving, ever since the day I was born, has always been different. My family purchases no ingredients for Thanksgiving. No turkey, no stuffing, no pumpkin pie – nothing. Instead, for both lunch and dinner, we go out to Denny’s, or any other of the only restaurants open for Thanksgiving.
The meal would only be attended by my parents, and my grandparents on my mother’s side when they were still living with us. The mood is generally quiet, with small conversation happening between my dad and I.
This was nothing like the idyllic meals that endless numbers of movies and television shows had portrayed to me, and I used to hate it. To my mind, it seemed that we were doing everything wrong. This isn’t what it’s supposed to look like. This isn’t as wonderful as it was displayed by the media. This isn’t normal.
Growing up, I hated the idea of being different. I already was an outsider due to my South Korean heritage, having a different physical appearance and speaking a different language when with my family. Nobody had to say anything to me for me to feel this way. These differences were made painfully obvious to me, not because of any bullying or racist remarks from other people. Rather, the differences were accentuated by television shows and movies. No Thanksgiving scene portrayed an Asian family having a Thanksgiving meal that was different than what was constantly portrayed. Feelings of resentment and sadness brewed within me when I compared the images on the screen to the visuals before my eyes every Thanksgiving holiday. I wished for anything else than what I had.
I had left for college after my senior year of high school, and experienced my first Thanksgiving away from my family. I was certain that it would be no big deal, since I would just eat out like my family had always done for every holiday. Yet, once the day arrived, and I went out to eat my Thanksgiving meal at a local diner, I was hit with how much I missed my family. There was no thought concerning the meals that I used to eat with them. No consideration for how we celebrated Thanksgiving. All my attention, instead, went straight to the obvious absence of my family.
It took me 19 years to finally realize the emphasis that film and television had placed on Thanksgiving meals were not what was important. The real important aspect of a Thanksgiving meal is not the food, not the traditions and not how it appears to anyone else. Thanksgiving is about who you spend that time with. It’s a chance to share quality time with family, with those closest to you.
This Thanksgiving, I joined my family again. We had a turkey — it was made of ice cream. We ate at a Japanese buffet. We had no decorations, no typical turkey dinner and no large gatherings — but we didn’t need any of that.
This is my picturesque Thanksgiving, being with my family, reliving my normal Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t have it any other way.