My first Thanksgiving in this country wasn’t a great experience (click here to see my story about it). Formerly an engineer, I worked nights at a retirement home making the minimum wage. I rented a small apartment and drove a rusty car. I had no friends, and my daughter was my only family. I couldn’t even speak English, so I thought I had little to celebrate.
Since then, I’ve had all kinds of Thanksgivings: most of them good and tasty. Yet there was one — during my divorced state – when I almost set my house on fire while making my first Thanksgiving dinner for myself; and also one after which my whole family got violently sick (this is after I remarried).
On the whole, though, I like Thanksgiving. I like its food, I like the fact that it is a family holiday, I like that afterwards we always have leftovers. In fact, I don’t understand people who complain about eating leftover turkey for too long. I don’t mind that. To me, turkey meat is tasty, lean, and healthy (vegetarians, skip this). Also, did you know that that great pragmatist, Benjamin Franklin, wanted a turkey to be the symbol of America and not a bald eagle?
Just think about it! What’s good about eagles? They’re handsome, of course, but they are very aggressive. The latter, by the way, is the reason that, for a long time, I thought it was a “bold” eagle. I had a point there, too. First of all, as near homonyms, bald and bold sounded identical to me. Second, have you ever seen a bald eagle? They all have dense (although short) feathers on their heads! (It is vultures who are bald – see my photo on the right.) Third, not only are eagles aggressive, but they also eat everything, including carrion (!), which, in my book, is a rather bold thing to do. Besides, the United States is already perceived as very aggressive in many parts of the world, so why should we emphasize that?
Now, look at the turkey: it’s cute, it makes funny sounds, eats plants and berries, slugs and snails, and – best of all – we can eat it! Also, turkeys have influenced our culture in a number of ways, including the English language. Remember the expressions “talk turkey” or going “cold turkey”? Can you go “cold eagle”? Surely not! Turkeys have even become part of our judicial system, so the president pardons one of them every year on the White House Lawn!
In any case, this year — for the first time in 70,000 years (or so they say :)) — Thanksgiving coincides with the first day of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
Those of you who are Jews know what I’m talking about. Those who are not, don’t be embarrassed. I myself came to celebrate Jewish holidays late in life. Most of them, anyway. As a child growing up in Moscow, I don’t remember celebrating Hanukkah. What I do remember is celebrating Passover in my grandparents’ tiny apartment, eating matzah (unleavened bread) and gefilte fish (minced flesh of carp mixed with bread crumbs, fried onions, spices, and eggs, and then stuffed inside the fish skin). Since it only happened once a year, I thought that gefilte fish was luxurious. In fact, one of my major life disappointments took place on my first trip to Israel, where I learned that gefilte fish was a trick poor Jews used to stretch their holiday meals.
“That cannot be true!” I said to our tour guide in disbelief. “Grandma only made it once a year, and it was very tasty!” (By the way, I may be the only person in the Jewish world who finds Manischewitz wine tasty :).)
Going back to Hanukkah. Just like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah comes with its own food: potato latkes (pancakes) with apple sauce, sufganiyot (round jelly doughnuts), and chocolate, or rather chocolate coins, otherwise known as “money gelt.” Also, since this year we can celebrate both holidays together (somebody even invented a new term for this combined holiday, Thanksgivignukkah!), we can add a new recipe to our usual repertoire: latkes with cranberry sauce: http://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/latkes.
Happy Thanksgiving, happy Hanukkah, happy Thanksgivigukkah, and happy whatever holiday you celebrate this time of the year in your part of the world! For what can be more important than making people happy? In fact, we don’t even have to have a holiday for that :).