There’s another word for Thanksgiving. It’s still sort of a nickname at this point, a bit newer and a lot less formal. It resurfaces every November, and it’s been popping up more and more lately, especially in conjunction with things only barely related to giving thanks: football games, blowout sales, TV specials and the like. I suppose that’s fitting, because there’s something sinister and unnerving, manufactured and commercial, maybe even soulless in the rise of “Turkey Day”.
I’m a little ambivalent about taking Christ out of Christmas, but taking the Thanks out of Thanksgiving is different. The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, a rare unadulterated expression of gratitude, is a cornerstone of American culture. The sentiment of gratitude is above cultural and religious boundaries, making Thanksgiving a truly universal holiday citizens of all cultures can participate in. But removing Thanks from Thanksgiving in favor of the materialism of celebrating the turkey is like tearing American culture’s beating heart right out of its chest and stuffing it back into its mouth. There’s a deeper problem here: the reckless, careless destruction of culture.
It’s easy to forget the true importance of culture when you’ve spent most of your life in the interstice of two worlds. When your friends see your GPA and joke that you’re the “most Asian person they know”, when your parents remind you every hour to switch a language that you barely speak at a conversational level, when melting into the pot and sitting at its edge both have their own uncomfortable consequences, you might start to see it as an inconvenience, an artificial divide, a source of misunderstanding and pointless rituals. After all, if neither the culture outside your door nor the one inside seem to represent you as an individual, why even bother with culture at all?
But at its core, every culture is an approach to life. All the peripheral outgrowth we typically associate with culture—the art, the literature, the music, the oral tradition—is a manifestation of a fundamental set of values. Even the cuisine is closely tied to these central values. My family’s use of rice as a staple food, for example, represents the Chinese commitment to high achievement; wheat and maize are easier to grow but not as rich in nutritional content. Noodles, too, reflect the Chinese value of persistence, breaking down the problem of a large slab of dough into many smaller problems to solve individually. But it’s not rice or noodles that make me Chinese; it’s the values that they reflect. These values, among others, are what really makes Chinese culture, and they have guided me to overcome numerous challenges and continually improve myself. Thanks to my culture, I feel a deeper connection to my history in everything I do. Thanks to my culture, I have a deeper understanding of the world and of myself.
This Thanksgiving, you’re welcome to celebrate however you want. You’re welcome to use raspberry sauce instead of cranberry sauce, or maybe skip the stuffing, or switch out the turkey entirely. You’ll still be celebrating American culture. The traditions built around Thanksgiving are just reflections of more fundamental cultural principles. But if you call it Turkey Day, you belittle the importance of that principle, and if that’s the case, there’s no hope— no turkey, no cranberry sauce, no amount of stuffing can make your Turkey Day feast American. You’ve forgotten the importance of culture, of your values, of the past.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take a moment to remember why you celebrate. So be thankful for that.