When you're living abroad, Thanksgiving can sneak up on you. So when my dad sent me a message Wednesday night — "About to run my last errand for Mom (hopefully)" — I had absolutely no clue what he could be talking about.
Then, it hit me. He was out grocery shopping for the big meal.
Thanksgiving is a truly all-American holiday. It's not a religious import, pagan or Christian, like Halloween and Christmas. It comes without the political implications of July 4th, as many of us tend to gloss over the historical baggage of colonialism. Originally, Thanksgiving was a celebration that the pilgrims had survived the harsh winter. It's a time for families to gather and stuff themselves silly with turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie — foods whose main ingredients are native to North America.
Normally, I go home Tuesday night, prepare all day Wednesday, and then spend Thursday in an eating frenzy. But this year in Paris, it's a little different. You could argue that one of the perks of being abroad for Thanksgiving is that I get to miss the moment where dinner conversation shifts to politics. Thanksgiving's proximity to Election Day always makes for interesting (to say the least) political discussions. But I actually don't get to escape that. The French people and other foreigners around me have plenty to say about the current state of politics in the United States. Conversations inevitably shift that way, and I'm usually the only American present. When that happens, I always find myself torn.
Thanksgiving is a national reset button.
There is no denying that America is in crisis. The country is divided, at times seemingly beyond repair. White supremacists have taken to the streets. Women and LGBT rights are under attack. The new tax plan will cripple everyone but the top echelons of society. We might lose net neutrality. And the content on a certain high-profile Twitter account makes my country harder and harder to defend.
And yet, I find myself strangely optimistic about my native country. One look at my house on Thanksgiving might explain why. My mother, a Korean immigrant, makes the best cornbread stuffing I've ever had. I make broccoli casserole, a decidedly Southern dish. My cousins and I, all biracial kids, organize dessert: pumpkin pie (classic) and then something experimental and chocolate. My dad puts on the Charlie BrownThanksgiving special, while my Jewish uncle talks about the latest bonsai he's been cultivating.
Yes, we talk about politics, and I lecture the one teenage boy in the family about feminism. But the point is not to shut out the world in a tryptophan-induced coma.
Thanksgiving is a national reset button. It's a moment to embrace, rather than critique, the weird traditions, the differences, the chaos that make up my country. From over here, I can see that more clearly than ever — and I haven't given up on America just yet.
This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, both original pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris we call home. Send ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.