A Family’s Untraditional Thanksgiving Celebration


Jessica Senat, FCLC ’12 (far right), says that Thanksgiving to her means more than a feast. (Courtesy of Jessica Senat)


Jessica Senat, FCLC ’12 (far right), says that Thanksgiving to her means more than a feast. (Courtesy of Jessica Senat)

I had Cheerios cereal for Thanksgiving dinner one year.

It happened once, during a bleary Thanksgiving afternoon, and I had slept for most of it. Realizing that I hadn’t eaten yet, I went downstairs and rummaged through the kitchen for a suitable “meal.” Filling up my bowl with Cheerios, I sat down and ate in silence while my sister and father slept.

This wasn’t an unusual occurrence; actually, it was normal for us to spend Thanksgiving like any other given day.

The meaning of the holiday never registered with my parents. Hailing from the small Caribbean island of Haiti, the idea of having a grand dinner on one particular day sounded absurd to them. What made this day special?  It also didn’t help that my father hated turkey.

But as for me, I never shared those sentiments. I always wanted to have that grand feast, the traditional trimmings that came with a Thanksgiving dinner. I wanted the cranberries, the stuffing, cornbread and a big turkey waiting for me on the table. More simply, I wanted my family to acknowledge Thanksgiving.

The lack of enthusiasm for the holiday in my own house drove me and my sister to try to find it elsewhere. We would go from house to house , eating dinner with other relatives who celebrated the holiday.  Although I enjoyed spending time with my aunts and uncles, I would always feel guilt creep up inside of me, reminding me with a grim bitterness that my parents were home and that I had ditched them in an effort to have a “normal” Thanksgiving.

I guess you can say I was a bit brainwashed; the stories that were told in elementary school captured my imagination and manifested into a fantasy that I wished to make reality. I wanted long distance relatives flying over from different states and countries just to spend a weekend. I wanted to be involved in the Thanksgiving preparations: picking the right turkey, looking for the right recipes for cranberry sauce and stuffing and the search for Grandma’s secret pie recipe.

I focused on all the wrong things. The food, the family dinners—“Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?” Obviously I was a bit deluded on the concept.

Until about three years ago. It was the holiday season of 2008. My mom finally had Thanksgiving off and I pleaded with her to try out something different that year. She gave in.

My mother wasn’t crazy about having a whole turkey on her table, so instead we sliced it into small pieces. Despite his dislike for turkey, my father still showed his support with the occasional appearance in the kitchen to see how things were going.

We didn’t have dinner together. We didn’t sit down at one grand table and share memories or jokes. We ate separately. We simply made different dishes to try them out  and told each other what was good or what we shouldn’t ever try again (my dad hated the turkey as expected). My aunt came over to bid us a Happy Thanksgiving and dropped off some food before heading off to work. After eating we slept or watched football.

You would think that finally getting that dinner I always asked for was the reason why I would never forget Thanksgiving of that year. It wasn’t the picture perfect scene that I wanted. It was far from it. But what made this one of the best Thanksgivings was the effort put in to make it different. It was my mother asking me what I would like to make for dinner. It was my dad trying out the turkey just because I asked him to. It was my sister commending me for making dinner.

Thanksgiving isn’t about the things we do, but who we do it with. It’s a lesson that took me way too long to understand, but I’m finally grateful or what I have. Whether we have dinner or sleep in this year, I’ll make the best out of my day with my loved ones.