What America Celebrates on Thanksgiving

What America Celebrates on Thanksgiving


Gracia Lam

In these days of anxiety and alienation, Thanksgiving offers the warm embrace of inclusiveness. Particularly for many people with families and faiths rooted in other lands, no other holiday, not even the Fourth of July, has so great a capacity to make them feel American.

A child of Orthodox Jewish immigrants could feel his apartness on other festivals celebrated by the larger society. Christmas, Easter, Halloween — all are distinctly Christian observances, no matter how temporal and commercialized they have become. They are inevitable reminders for some Americans that they are different.

Thanksgiving’s origins are also Christian. But it has evolved into something both secular and spiritual, a day devoted to family and amity. Perhaps that explains its unwavering appeal for believers and nonbelievers alike (even if many Native Americans understandably choose not to partake). Thanksgiving is at heart more than parades, or football or even country; there’s no flag-waving or chest-thumping. It is about shared bounty and shared humanity.

That’s why the writer Saadia Faruqi, a Pakistan-born Muslim, welcomes the day. “For a Pakistani-American, Thanksgiving is as wholesome and normal a holiday as one can get,” she said in a 2015 essay. “It is a time to be grateful, to spend time with family, and to have a little bit of fun.” Though she never developed a taste for turkey, Ms. Faruqi wrote, the Thanksgiving table would most definitely be set — with tandoori chicken, daal and naan.

No turkey, either, for Saumya Arya Haas, a writer who is Hindu. But there would be the familiar trimmings, she wrote a few years ago for Huffington Post. And, for sure, chai. “My family experience of being Hindu is deeply rooted in inclusiveness, social equity and community service. Chai-party values, if you like,” Ms. Haas said. She continued: “There’s pumpkin pie on the table and chai on the stove. This is America, after all. We create our own truth, if there even is a truth at all. We are all poor in something. We share with those who have less. Everyone brings something. We are imperfect, real, enriched.”

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