Saturday, December 3, 2011

My First American Thanksgiving

By Namo Abdulla -- for Rudaw

The final Thursday of November, on which Americans eat millions of turkeys, could be “very depressing” for me, said a university professor.

The reason isn’t that I am a vegetarian who disapproves of the massacre of the poor birds for a momentary human pleasure that day. I am actually so obsessed with meat that I could never possibly be a vegetarian. In an email sent to students at Columbia Journalism School, the professor discouraged us from staying around campus or eating at a restaurant on this special day, which is called Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving celebrations date back to 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians had a good harvest. It wasn’t recognized as an official holiday, however, until 1863, during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

Upholding tradition, on the eve of Thanksgiving, US President Barack Obama pardoned a turkey.

“It’s an annual ritual,” said Maura Judkis in her Washington Post blog, “that reminds us of both thankfulness and our elected officials’ power to decide between life and death.”

In a humorous and sarcastic way, Obama said that saving the turkey’s life was one of his recent actions for which he “can’t wait” on a congressional approval. “Otherwise, they'd end up next to the mashed potatoes and stuffing,” he said.

This year marked my first Thanksgiving. Invited by an American family, I was lucky to end up at a big table of food rather than eating with the homeless in a restaurant down the street. After being away from home for months, I needed a homemade meal.

While it was a totally new experience, Thanksgiving reminded me of some similar and dissimilar characteristics of Kurdish life. First, it had a familial atmosphere, which is part and parcel of Kurdish life in Iraq. It’s typically a daily occurrence in Kurdistan that women cook, waiting for men to return from school and work, and then, share the meal altogether.

But in America, family gatherings have become something of an occasional matter. Adopting an individualist approach of life, Americans (here I mean women too) are expected to leave their families after reaching a certain age in which they can depend on themselves. I have friends whose siblings and parents are divided across countries and even continents.

As I entered the house without taking off my shoes, I suddenly took sight of a beautiful white cat roaming freely inside. Unlike our cats, she was not afraid of us, sitting smartly on one of the chairs at the table, a behavior that I had seen only in Tom and Jerry cartoons.

My family used to tolerate cats only when needed to catch mice in our house. But in America, there is much more respect for animals, which have their own rights groups. Dogs and cats are petted and enjoy a much more luxurious life than, for example, some homeless men spending their night outside my apartment on the chilly street.

Last but not least, my Thanksgiving Day had a multi-religious nature: a Muslim at a Jewish family gathering with Christian friends. Despite discussing many sensitive issues from turkey the bird to Turkey the country, from religion to politics and the Iraq War, we remained joyful and tolerant all day.

Last year, I was in Baghdad during Eid al-Adha, which Shiites and Sunnis celebrate separately. I wondered: Why not think of an Iraqi Thanksgiving that brings everybody, regardless of religious or ethnic backgrounds, together?

* Follow the author on Twitter at #namo_abdulla, or email him at:

1 comment:

  1. I liked reading your experience. I just got to know about Thanksgiving this year and it was sort of a good experience to me, though nothing close to yours.