Celebrating an Arab-American Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving in America is a beautiful holiday. It possesses a good spirit and noble message. Thanksgiving is not a holiday of any particular religion. It is not a Christian or Jewish holiday but has many deeply religious and spiritual meanings. America at Thanksgiving is America at its best.

It is unfortunate that like many other moral and spiritual things this holiday is also turned nowadays into too much indulgence and commercialism. It is important that we remember and remind others about the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Ask anyone in the Middle East how their day is going, how they feel about the political strife in their hometown or what they think about their salary and the economic state of their country, and, no matter how dissatisfied they are, most likely, the answer you’ll get is “Al hamdu li’llah,” which is accurately translated as “All praise goes to God.”

Even Middle Easterners abroad have been conditioned to respond to the daily-asked ‘how are you doing?’ with ‘Good; thank God!’ This is not to say that Middle Easterners are not opinionated, because trust me, if there’s any surplus in the Middle East, it’s one of varying strong opinions.

Our gratefulness is a matter of attitude; we are taught to see the good in even the bleakest of times, and to be ever thankful for our circumstances, which are bestowed upon us and often not a result of our own doing. However, this attitude of contentment is not tied to just religion but deeply ingrained in the Middle Eastern culture as a whole.

For this reason, the American concept of Thanksgiving is an easy one to adopt by Middle Easterners, because even though giving thanks is sandwiched between our sentences in daily conversations, we have not made a holiday for it. But it is most fitting for us to celebrate it on Thanksgiving Day.

Of course, a large part of the way we celebrate Thanksgiving in our household revolves around making and sharing delicious food, as is the case for most people.

Food has a special place in our hearts as Arabs, so Thanksgiving was the one American holiday we most love.

Thanksgiving dinner is conventionally associated with very specific foods. Turkey,  pumpkin pie, and stuffing. But that’s not where every family’s tradition begins and ends.

Along with the traditional foods, my family will always provide that side dish of timan wa marag (a rice and stew), hummus, and most probably dolma. Dolma is stuffed vegetables such as onion skin and grape vine leaves stuffed with a sort of ground beef, soaked basmati rice, pomegranate molasses, garlic, pepper, and a blend of spices. For dessert, bring on the kanafa! Kanafa is a sugar soaked pastry that is either layered or filled with cheese or cream, soaked in a sugar syrup flavored with rose water or orange blossom water, and then topped with ground nuts like pistachios.

Leave it for my parents and grandparents to dig straight into the Arabian food on the table. As for me, I want my mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and okay pass over that kanafa as well.

America is the place where my parents came and found a new life after becoming Iraqi refugees, to provide a better like for my brother and I. My mother and father went through a lot to get to America, and for that I am ever thankful. So, on this Thanksgiving, like every Thanksgiving, I feel lucky.  Lucky to be surrounded by interracial family and friends, and love that not only helps me survive, but thrive.

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