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I Finally Get Thanksgiving

My money’s on the turkey.

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday for me since my family never really celebrated it. Since we were Japanese and all, Thanksgiving was just “Thursday” at my house. Actually, worse than a regular Thursday because all the stores were closed, which really seemed to annoy my grandfather. He thrived on his daily “errands” and this stupid holiday about turkey worship was depriving him of important tasks like going to Costco and not buying anything or going to the pharmacy and harassing the clerk with a barrage of inane questions.

I didn’t really think much of my family’s stance on Thanksgiving until I reached Elementary School. There, I diligently filled my head with propaganda that Thanksgiving is an important holiday because the Pilgrims almost died trying to make something of themselves in the New World and would’ve bit the dust had the Native Americans not come to help them and taught them things like how to use fish heads as fertilizer. Having staved off certain death, the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to a shindig to celebrate. Elementary school neglected to mention the brutal and systematic slaughter of Native Americans that followed, but hey, that’s what high school is for, right? And besides, the Native Americans can operate casinos now, so isn’t that something?

Anyway, I tried explaining to my family the importance of Thanksgiving, but it didn’t register. They were Japanese, and as far as they knew, no Native Americans saved any Japanese people and offered to have a party with them. The thing is, I’m Japanese-AMERICAN. The latter half of the hyphen craved being part of the traditions of a regular American. More than that, I wanted to be American, and that meant doing American stuff like Thanksgiving. I, too, wanted to eat turkey, play football, and watch family members get drunk and argue with each other.

My mom must’ve sensed my anxiety because one year she ordered a full turkey dinner from a fancy restaurant. Oh, it was glorious. I finally knew what stuffing and cranberry sauce tasted like. It felt good experiencing the same things my friends were experiencing. I’m not different and weird! Too bad it was a one-time thing. When I asked my mom about turkey dinner the next year, she said she didn’t like that kind of food. And besides, now I knew what it tasted like. Isn’t that what’s important? Clearly my parents were never going to understand Thanksgiving. The ironic thing is, I never really understood it either until this year.

This year was the first time I ever invited people to my house for Thanksgiving. My wife and I started small — just my parents — but it still meant waking up early and throwing down in the kitchen. I baked a sweet potato pie while my wife made dressing and green bean casserole. Then we both tidied up the condo so my parents wouldn’t think we lived in a sty. All the while, we took turns taking care of Dmitri’s needs. I definitely felt like a grownup.

When my parents arrived with a platter of sushi, I added it to our cornucopia of delights. Then we all gathered around the table, and I made sukiyaki, which isn’t just the name of a song but also delicious Japanese hotpot. Sitting around the table, I realized Thanksgiving isn’t about just eating certain foods or celebrating the fact that the Native Americans probably really regret teaching the Pilgrims about fish head fertilizer. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what you eat. Thanksgiving isn’t about stuff. It’s about the simple joy of being with family and sharing.

It took some growing up to finally see that.