By Assunta Ng
What does Thanksgiving mean to immigrants who have lived in America for decades like me?
It isn’t just the day before Black Friday, when you can go shopping until you’re dead. It’s not just a holiday for family and friends to gather. No, it’s not just about having a turkey feast with plenty of goodies to eat.
The Pilgrims, who started this tradition, came to this country in 1621 to pursue religious freedom. After a long and harsh journey of 65 days, they reached the shores of Cape Cod.
Over half of the English settlers died during that first winter. But they finally had something to give thanks for in 1623 when a drought ended and they had a good harvest.
Eventually, George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day in 1789.
I ponder what Thanksgiving has given to the Asian community. I came up with some lessons and gifts of Thanksgiving.
1. Surviving a tough voyage
For those who escaped the tyranny of their native land, like the Vietnamese boat refugees who came to America after the fall of Saigon in 1973, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate survival — not only in America, but also on the rough seas and through other dangerous encounters during their journey to this new land.
Thanksgiving reminds those who have struggled and survived adversities that they’ve made it.
2. Treasuring your freedom
The Pilgrims paid a high price to seek freedom in America. Please don’t take the freedom you receive for granted. Use that freedom to better your life and others’ lives. Help make America stronger by helping strangers, not just your relatives.
You say, “My life is the same every year. What is there to cheer for?”
You are alive. Amen to that! Remember the Pilgrims lost half of their friends and family members after their first winter in America. Still, they gave thanks for their blessings and had hope for the future.
4. What is abundance?
You say, “I am not a penny richer in 2012.” But the definition of abundance depends on your interpretation. Contentment is more important than having wealth.
The Pilgrims said thanks for a good harvest, even though they had very little. They were grateful that they had enough to eat.
The Pilgrims were grateful that they had the Indians, who taught them how to farm and fish, as their new friends. They gladly shared their harvests with the Indians. What came as a result was not just a friendship, but a new community. When immigrants bond with outsiders, you are setting examples on how to reach out and build bridges for your own community.
6. Say your prayers
You don’t have to be religious to pray. The Pilgrims prayed to give thanks. Prayer just means quiet reflection in your mind. Having peaceful thoughts and joyful emotions is one of the key Thanksgiving rituals at dinner. Make family members and friends share their bliss on Thanksgiving by making a video. It will be fun.
Always be grateful. Say thank you often. How do you express gratitude to those who have supported and loved you? It can be by making a phone call; sending a simple card, e-mail, or gift; giving them a hug; treating them to dinner; or going on a walk or to a movie together.
To make it more meaningful, do something concrete for those you owe gratitude.
Don’t forget to thank yourself. Count your own blessings and be kind to yourself.
8. New experiences
The Pilgrims took huge risks to come to America. If you are scared to embark on new adventures, just learn from the Pilgrims’ courage and move forward. They never looked back.
Food is a vital aspect in Thanksgiving tradition. Always have a special meal on this holiday with family and friends. Invite friends who might not have company to share the meal. (end)