While Americans and Canadians are usually the people who celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday, the custom has spilled over into other places. I believe this has happened over time due to prolonged contact with those places.
I’m not sure that’s exactly the reason other places celebrate Thanksgiving Day, of course. It’s an educated guess. Cultures and societies tend to assimilate customs that promote one positive aspect of life or another.
What started out as a religious holiday is now considered a secular holiday as well. I guess it doesn’t matter whether it’s an occasion to give thanks or to simply partake in a huge feast with family and friends.
The original turkey for Thanksgiving Day was actually any large bird that could be hunted and eaten. I’m referring to, of course, the first thanksgiving feast at Plymouth Plantation in 1621. That was well over 100 years before that part of the American continent became a part of the United States.
Somewhere along our historical path, the turkey became the fowl of choice for eating on Thanksgiving Day (and Christmas Day as well for some people). I don’t know about other societies but most Americans will try to find the biggest turkey they can fit in a conventional oven.
In 2006 (in the Philippines), we looked for a large turkey for our Thanksgiving Day dinner. The largest turkey we could find back then was actually quite small. It didn’t take long to cook and we consumed everything but the bones in short order. Everything we considered edible, that is.
I grew up in a large family and our Thanksgiving Day meals were always more than enough to feed 11 or more people at once. Even when the family grew to more than double that size, there was always enough and usually leftovers.
Two huge turkeys were normally the center of attention. We had pumpkin and pecan pies, sweet potatoes and yams, cranberry sauce, cornbread, hams, fruit salad and things I can’t seem to remember now. Huge helpings of giblet gravy would go on top of whatever it went on top of along with the stuffing from the turkeys.
As we got older, some of the Thanksgiving Day items could be bought already prepared at local markets. The best dishes, however, were always homemade. If we want the same fixings here, we have to go homemade all the way.
2009 was the first year after 2006 in which we celebrated Thanksgiving Day and we haven’t celebrated it since. My wife, Josie, was in the United States for it every other year until 2015. Because of certain circumstances, we didn’t celebrate it in 2015 or 2016 and 2017 is still up for grabs.
Strange as it may seem, Josie is the one who insisted on the Thanksgiving Day dinners in both 2006 and 2009. It was only strange to me, considering she’s Filipino, until I thought about it for more than a few minutes. Josie lived in the United States for 21 years before we left in 2006. She moved to the United States when she was only 23 and she’s now 56.
Overall, Josie’s spent more time living in the United States than she has in the Philippines. I can consider her a Filipino-American in the truest sense because she acts more American than I do in many ways.
One of the unfortunate side effects of cooking a big Thanksgiving Day dinner in the Philippines is that all of our relatives will come out of the woodwork, looking for a piece of the action. I know this because it has happened before and not just with turkeys. Whenever Josie cooks certain American and Mexican-American foods, we have difficulty keeping them away.
Her famous chicken enchiladas, beef tacos, American-style spaghetti (which tastes way better than Filipino-style spaghetti), and other foods will create delicious odors that tend to waft over our compound. I can understand the reactions of our relatives.
The way they behave, you’d think our relatives have never eaten real food before. I don’t mind sharing as long as we remember to set aside enough for ourselves to make the holiday ordeal worthwhile. The only part that irritates me is when I know they’ve already eaten and I haven’t and they’re willing to take more than their fair share.
It just isn’t going to happen that way ever again or in other words, it’ll happen over my dead body. When I’m hungry for some turkey, nobody had better get in my way and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the 4th Thursday of November each year (which happens to fall on the same day as my birthday every so often). Regardless of how far away or close it is to my birthday, I usually just celebrate my birthday at the same time (and only when I celebrate it). As I get older, I find special occasions like these less important each year.
Originally published in November 2013. Updated for 2017.