Giving Thanks


November is here. Every year at this time, I scan my address book, choosing people I would like to include in our Thanksgiving dinner. Years ago, I saw a photograph depicting a Thanksgiving dinner. It showed a large, beautifully decorated table, seating many people of all ages. A huge turkey lay at the table's center. I immediately fell in love with that photograph because it represented a real family celebration. As we do not have a large family to join us in this holiday, over the years I have come to invite other friends who do not have extensive families to our dinner.

The author and her husband hosting Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving. It is a very American holiday, unknown in any place outside the United States. Thanksgiving signifies much more to me than a yearly celebration commemorating our country's early settlers. Thanksgiving marks a day when all Americans of all races, religions, and origins, gather with family and friends around a festive table. It is a day when everyone is simply American.

When I arrived in the United States 32 years ago, my knowledge of the language, traditions, and customs of the country was meager. I was fortunate to meet and befriend an elderly lady who, like me, was an émigré from Poland. She had been living in the United States for many years, yet she still tended to mix up her languages. Sometimes, I could not understand her exactly.

It was autumn. I had been in this country for several weeks when my friend announced: "I am inviting you for Thanksgiving. I will roast a turkey and will invite a few more people." I did not know what Thanksgiving was, but did not wish to admit my ignorance. I was young and pretended to be sophisticated, but I was also intrigued. My friend's reference to roasting a turkey had led me to believe that she would be roasting a Turkish citizen. At that Thanksgiving dinner, I was introduced to and enjoyed many unknown dishes-although no cannibalism took place.

A year later, when I was getting married, I chose Thanksgiving as the date for the wedding. My apologies go out today to some friends who attended the wedding. I did not realize what an imposition it was for them to leave their families on this day. I remember one woman departing early, telling me that she had a turkey in the oven.

Throughout the years I have embraced this holiday wholeheartedly. I have acquired special dishes and decorations, and have celebrated this day with great pleasure. The list of guests at our table has changed. Some dear people are no longer alive, and other new friends have joined our celebration.

As I dust off my porcelain squirrels, who will once again "chase" nuts on our table, I reflect upon the beauty of the holiday. Amidst news of the recession, homelessness, politics and "family values," corrupt judges and greedy financiers, I take stock of my personal achievements. I have a lot to brag about: I married a kind and decent man; we have a comfortable home; and we have raised children who turned out to be decent, sensitive, and educated people with family values learned at home.

As I list my achievements, I say a little prayer that I invented many years ago, as a child, for times of distress. Only this time, I say the prayer in thanks for what I have enjoyed and what I have achieved. I give thanks, and realize the true meaning of Thanksgiving.