Thanksgiving: An outside-in view

Photo by Tim Sackton/Flickr

Photo by Tim Sackton/Flickr

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. For the Americans, it’s a time to be around family, eat home-cooked turkey and be thankful for all their blessings. For outsiders, like me, it’s just another opportunity to try and crack the puzzle that is this holiday.

I’ve lived in the States for over a year now, and I’d like to, at the very least, pretend that I’ve immersed myself in the American culture and have a working knowledge of all things American. I’ve successfully gotten used to the oversized food portions, which I’m constantly reminded of every time I step onto that weighing scale. I’ve Americanized the pronunciation of my own name because it’s a struggle trying to correct it for every new person I meet. And I sat down to watch the Super Bowl earlier this year, despite my complete lack of knowledge of the NFL rules.

While I’ve had to go out of my comfort zone, doing all of the above, nothing holds up the
“Keep Out” sign the way Thanksgiving does for me. By default, it excludes the outsider. It’s as American as a holiday can get and that’s not just because it’s only celebrated in this part of the world. For a foreigner like me, there’s something eerie about this ‘Turkey Holiday’ that says, it’s “Thanksgiving and you’re not invited!”

Before the Americans start questioning my judgment, let me try to break down my thought process here. The fact that Thanksgiving does not primarily have a religious affiliation and is celebrated secularly, makes it an exclusive holiday in the eyes of non-Americans, living in the States. For Christmas, you don’t have to be an American to get into the holiday spirit just because of its global nature. In fact, its religious premise makes it somewhat relatable even for a non-Christian like myself.

But beyond its not very fathomable roots, it’s the manner in which Thanksgiving is
celebrated which makes it difficult for an outsider to get excited about it or even pretend to care. To thoroughly enjoy a Thanksgiving meal, you need to develop a taste for that native American big bird known as turkey. For someone, who spends three days of Eid (Islamic holiday) around red meat, the idea of consuming a bird to “celebrate” doesn’t digest too well.

And if having a prospective national bird, at least in Benjamin Franklin’s eyes, for supper
isn’t American enough for one’s liking, there is that obsession with holiday shopping. The
purpose of a holiday is to relax, preferably at home. But on Thanksgiving Day and the following Black Friday, a holiday means standing in line outside Macy’s and Best Buy, as if your life depended on it. Opportunistic retailers have the holiday shoppers in their grasp, right where they want them and the American consumerism flag is raised high.

By devoting one single day to be thankful for God’s blessings and the past year, Thanksgiving presents an easy way out for people. Expressing gratitude should be an ongoing process, not a one-time thing. In a way, it’s similar to the concept behind Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. Mail a card and a gift to your mom and dad on that one particular day, and you’re effectively done for the rest of the year.

Logistically speaking, Thanksgiving also comes at an odd time and it just sneaks up on you.
For college students, Thanksgiving break is not too far from finals’ week, which can be
deceptive. But that doesn’t stop most Americans from heading home for that family reunion around turkey. I, on the other hand, am spending my Thanksgiving break as a tourist in Pittsburgh, of all places, with a friend from back home, trying to avoid the turkey dinners, the parade and the shopaholics.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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2 Responses to Thanksgiving: An outside-in view

  1. ayesha says:

    What a wonderful article, it almost felt like someone had penned out my thoughts.

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