The true meaning of Thanksgiving

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Illustration by Sarah Hofstedt Photo credit: Sarah Hofstedt

According to historical documents, Thanksgiving is celebrated because of some ancient feast between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans back in the 17th century. Most of the things we believe about the first Thanksgiving are not true. For one, there was no engraving on the Plymouth Rock in 1620.

The Pilgrims lived at Plymouth only because European diseases infected and killed thousands of Native Americans, leaving behind the abandoned village the Pilgrims inhabited. Before the first Thanksgiving, the Mayflower Pilgrims stole corn from Native American graves in Plymouth. The peace between the Wampanoag Tribe and Pilgrims was purely political and it was established long before the famous feast.

In reality, the feast wasn’t even significant to the Pilgrims. It was most likely just a customary event held annually. When Thanksgiving was recognized as a holiday in the United States in 1863 it started as a harvest festival. Today it is mainly seen as a day of feasting. Some people might think it’s just a time to eat and watch football, but Thanksgiving is much more than that.

Despite what many people might think, historically Thanksgiving was not about the food. On a regular day anyone can choose to make turkey — but we choose to cook a feast and gather around the table on this particular day every single year.

Someone’s aunt is in charge of the ham, someone’s mom makes mac and cheese and someone’s uncle brings the collard greens, and what would Thanksgiving be without Grandma’s homemade pumpkin, sweet potato or apple pie?

All these foods are absolutely delicious, and they are a major part of this holiday, but it’s family that makes Thanksgiving so special. It’s me seeing people that I have not seen since last year and for some not in many years. It’s a different vibe because Christmas and other holidays can be celebrated with just you, your parents and your sisters and brothers.

When it comes to Thanksgiving you’re going to want to see your cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents, step-brothers, step-sisters, step-aunties and step-uncles. The more the merrier! This is a day where everyone must come together. These are people who watched you grow up.

I went home last night, warmed up the leftovers from Thanksgiving. I sat alone while I ate in front of the television. It was the same food on the same day. It was still good, but something was missing. That’s when I realized it was them that I was missing, the essential ingredient of family.

I was missing the buildup to the food. I was missing the aunties that are getting drunk on wine and spilling family tea. I miss sitting at the “kids’ table” and laughing with my cousins. I was missing everyone’s stories. Learning more and more about my family and their history, stories from adventures and trouble they got into when they were my age. Life lessons. These ingredients are so important; it adds another dimension of flavor. Something you couldn’t possibly buy at any store. It’s bonding and family time.

When everything is done and set up on the table, everyone must come together. Everyone stops whatever they are doing because Grandma is about to bless the food! We haven’t eaten all day for this moment. We are ready to eat!

The anticipation, the family and the conversations make Thanksgiving so memorable. The diversity with some people from the South and some people born and raised right here in Los Angeles. This is not a day to try and experiment with new recipes. No, today is a day of tradition. Yet everyone’s food is so different, but everything comes together in perfect harmony.

Thanksgiving is not a day for football or remembering that old feast or harvest. All I can say is that Thanksgiving is about the love. I am grateful for love.