During Thanksgiving break, I was flipping through the recent issue of The New Yorker. I encountered a personal yet relatable article called “Magical Dinners: An Immigrant Thanksgiving” by Chang-rae Lee, a renowned Korean-American novelist.
After having read one of his works, A Gesture Life, just this past summer, I was thrilled to see his name spread out across the Recollections page of The New Yorker.
His personal reflections on Thanksgiving touched me. Lines such as “…my mother, who is fretting over the turkey” and “…aprons stained with grease and kimchi juice” were especially pertinent to me, for I have shared similar experiences as a Korean immigrant.
Absorbing Lee’s lines, I pictured myself back at my old house in Michigan. It was Thanksgiving, and my mother had invited her new Korean friends to the house.
Thanksgiving was a strange custom for the Korean families who had just begun to settle in the area, and my mother believed that it would serve as a great opportunity for everyone to become better acquainted.
My mother, as the host of the grand feast, had assumed the job of preparing the turkey and was now reading off directions from a page in her cooking magazine called “How to Cook a Turkey.”
After checking to see the relative time it would take to cook the big bird, she began frantically running about the kitchen, looking for various utensils and yapping about the lack of time she had to prepare the meal.
While my mother concentrated on the turkey, swinging the oven door open now and then, I welcomed the guests who held in their hands plates of stuffing, pie, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Aside from the American Thanksgiving dishes, however, various Korean delicacies—jab-chae, bulgogi, pa-jun, and kimchi —gave variety to the table.
So there I was, sitting at the table quietly devouring the food. I watched my mother as she conversed with the guests, complimenting them on their dishes and exchanging recipes.
It was then I finally understood what my mother had desired to attain through this mock Thanksgiving feast: a family.
Observing my mother’s face brighten, I stepped into her shoes for a moment, wondering how difficult it must have been for her to take care of me on her own in a foreign land while my father was working in Korea.
But now, she had family: fellow Korean mothers who were struggling, experiencing the same adversities as she was. For them, even the partially uncooked turkey was something to laugh about. Thanksgiving wasn’t about the food, but about the atmosphere it created.
This year, unlike my first Korean Thanksgiving, I had the joy of spending the occasion with a true American family. Although it was quite different from my first Thanksgiving in many aspects—including the perfectly roasted turkey—it provided me with some of the same sensations that I had felt then, such as the love of a family.
So, no matter if you’re an immigrant, like me, or someone who has no background in Thanksgiving, I believe it holds one universal message for everyone who celebrates it: the notion of a family and the joy you find in sharing it with others. Everyone loves to be loved and thanked.
With Christmas at our doorstep, we are once again reminded of the joy of holidays. I look forward to this upcoming winter break when I will go to Korea to finally join my family whom I haven’t seen in what it seems like ages—like many others here.
The magic of holidays, whether it is Thanksgiving or Christmas, is that they enable families to come together, even ones who have been separated for a long time.