Define your Thanksgiving

Theresa Lee, Staff Writer

At first glance, my family’s Thanksgiving dinner table brims with the usual American favorites: a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes, a pitcher of brown gravy, yams topped with marshmallows, seasoned green beans, canned cranberry jelly, sweet pumpkin pie and the crowning oven-roasted turkey, golden from six grueling hours of preparation.

However, among the crowd hide a few “outsider” dishes, clutching a distinct cultural background and fighting for a spot on the plate. Sometimes, a tray of sushi or Korean noodles manages to wiggle its way in, while another year showcases colorful rice cakes. Especially on the basis of food, it’s complicated to explain why such exotic, non-American dishes enter my Thanksgiving tradition.

In America, Thanksgiving provides people with a particularly rigid perception of its activities through associated decorations and advertisements. Frozen turkeys and boxes of stuffing invade grocery stores. Restaurants advertise special catering menus, promising the “taste of Grandma’s cooking,” and grade school interiors display turkey crafts and cornucopias, informing students and staff that Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Three-year-old me associated Thanksgiving with three simple words: turkey, Pilgrims and family. However, Thanksgiving goes far beyond its popular food and practices. The holiday conveys a universal message of giving thanks and promotes an essence of togetherness between people. Although Thanksgiving began as an American milestone, Americans are essentially all immigrants with different cultural backgrounds. When conversing with peers about Thanksgiving traditions, we should learn to embrace various cultural customs and celebrate the diversity of our country.

In the Lee household, Thanksgiving traditions both adhere to and divert from the commercialized ones. We celebrate the “American” way by cooking traditional dishes, watching football and gathering with family and friends for a hearty dinner. At the same time, I incorporate Korean culture by performing Korean dance at the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade and indulging in familiar Korean foods afterward.

My two cultures unite at the Thanksgiving dinner table, celebrating the diverse communities that define our family and counting the blessings that each heritage has brought forth. Although different from a typical feast, the combination of American and Korean food represents us as a family, making my vision of Thanksgiving complete.