Each year, my family does the whole Thanksgiving sha-bang. We make a turkey (or buy it on years we’re feeling lazy) and fill our dining table with a cornucopia of foods — stuffing, cranberry sauce, cornbread. We gather around the dining room table instead of the regular kitchen table, sometimes with family from out of town, sometimes with friends who are more like family. We watch the Macy’s parade, we stuff our stomachs, we start decorating our house for Christmas. We have the stereotypical American Thanksgiving Day festivities, and it is one of my favorite holidays.
However, this year, I did none of these things. In fact, I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all because my family and I spent Thanksgiving in Korea where Thanksgiving is not a holiday.
Last week, I took a 12-hour flight to Seoul, Korea where most of my extended family live. As my grandparents are aging and not in the best health, my parents and I wanted to take this opportunity of a break in order to spend time with them, even though a week is quite a short amount of time to travel halfway around the world to.
My time in Seoul was memorable, fun and meaningful, though I still couldn’t help feeling as though I was missing out on the traditional Thanksgiving celebration. I mean, what can I say, I love cornbread and pumpkin pie. Instead of indulging in such delicious foods and holiday spirit, here’s how my Thanksgiving Day went in Korea.
I woke up early, thanks to the 17-hour time difference, and watched some TV for a while. My aunts came over to my grandma’s house, and we chatted about everything from the latest celebrity news to the state of education in Korea. My cousins were at school meanwhile, since there was no such thing as a Thanksgiving break for them. My mom got a haircut, we had lunch — it was like a normal day, nothing special. Nobody even mentioned Thanksgiving, and at dinner with some other extended family that night, my aunt asked me why I had school off this week. “Oh yeah, Thanksgiving,” she said in response to my answer.
For dinner, we didn’t have turkey, but the table at the restaurant we went to was filled completely with Korean barbecue instead. Squash soup replaced mashed potatoes and gravy, sushi and beef replaced turkey, while rice took stuffing’s place. There was no cranberry sauce on the table, just bean paste sauce for our lettuce wraps.
We didn’t go around the dinner table explicitly saying what we were thankful for, as do many on Thanksgiving, but we did talk about how grateful we were to see each other, the first time in months for some, years for others. Sitting at the dinner table surrounded by family, feeling incredibly grateful for each other despite the fact that I was one of the only people in the room that acknowledged the day as a holiday — this proved to me that we don’t need Thanksgiving to be thankful. I can be and am thankful whenever and wherever, whether it’s a day dedicated to giving thanks or not, whether there’s a turkey in front of me or not.
So although this Thanksgiving I was at a different kind of table at a different kind of place, I was surrounded by good food and great family, giving thanks all the same.
Contact Angie Lee at angielee ‘at’ stanford.edu