On the train to Guiyang this weekend I asked a little boy if he wanted to sit in my lap. The train did not have enough seats for everyone and he was standing with his mother. Although the child looked up at me without speaking, likely wondering why I spoke so strangely, he did not sit on my lap. The incident did inspire his grandfather to offer a seat, however, where the child quickly fell asleep.
In Guiyang our Thanksgiving Day celebration was filled with the hustle and bustle of preparing to serve 25 in a foreign country; it was the most amazing feat of preparation I have ever seen.
After dinner I was reflecting on the importance of this holiday. It was the first time in my life that I fully appreciated its significance: the basic idea of being thankful for things. Thanksgiving's impact upon American culture is easier to think about now that I've gone far away from that culture.
Several of my students asked me about the holiday and I kept responding, "it's a day when we are thankful for things and we eat a bunch of food." But then I wanted to go deeper and explain more, only uncovering more and more about American culture as I explored. I wondered, what kinds of things did I do for Thanksgiving as a child? What do older people do? What does it mean to host people for Thanksgiving? And where, oh where, did I put the whipped cream? Pumpkin pie just isn't the same without it.
I thought back on my Grandfather's pig farm. I dreamed about my breath in the air and the orange leaves hanging from trees. I realized that this holiday has been a part of shaping who I am.
American culture is so much more real when people are asking me about it. Indeed, it becomes even more so when I realize how little they know. "How could they NOT know about the wishbone?!" I think to myself. What about Turkey, the unfortunate, steroid-filled victim of our need for tradition? Surely you know the phrase "Turkey Day!" But nobody does.
The brief speeches about thanks make so much more sense when you actually say them aloud: "I am thankful for all of you, my fellow volunteers." And why does it feel so good to say this? Because I realize the depth of my thankfulness and how lucky I am. Thanks to you, too.