Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday growing up.
It was usually the busiest day of the year at my house. It's amazing how many family members and friends we cram into our cozy little house in Queens.
So what is a Chinese American Thanksgiving like?
Well, my family’s celebrations are… typical.
And atypical at the same time. (As it is for most families.)
Because there’s no ONE way to celebrate a holiday. A pet peeve of mine is when people talk about holiday celebrations as if everyone does the exact same thing.
Like many families, our Thanksgiving dinner featured roast turkey… and even cranberry sauce!
Sure, look, some folks might not have roast turkey at all. And that’s fine. Many folks have green bean casserole. We didn’t. We had lasagna (because it was my favorite and I requested it), which many of you probably didn’t.
In fact, we tended to be rather experimental. There were plenty of Chinese/Western side dishes popping in and out of rotation every year, from shrimp cocktail to fried rice.
Sometimes football was on in the background. Sometimes, we played video games.
At the end of the day, the details don’t really matter.
The superficial details aren't what I find special about Thanksgiving; it's the atmosphere.
The truth is, holiday experiences are different for everyone. It's impossible to replicate through reproduction of details alone.
Now, moving onto the subject at hand: Black Friday.
Black Friday? Yes, I have fond memories of those hectic early mornings.
I was a 90s kid, after all.
Black Fridays were, inevitably, linked to Thanksgiving. And it was so far out of the ordinary, so different from daily life, that it was quite the object of fascination to me.
It was a novelty.
And when you’re a kid, novelty rules.
I remember my parents waking me up before the crack of dawn (I insisted on joining in on the fun), stumbling groggy-eyed into the car, arriving at the shopping center to find a stream of people already camped out, with their lawn chairs and sleeping bags, probably for a good portion of the night.
It was exciting!!
It was different!!
It was a fringe experience…
Like being in school at night.
Like playing board games by candlelight during the Northeast Blackout of 2013.
Or those once-in-a-blue-moon gloomy days filled with lightning and thunder that both scared and excited me as a kid, the way it shook the earth and rattled the windows—again, I was probably huddled inside playing board games (maybe reading, or watching TV).
Those memories stick out because they were unusual, a break from daily routine.
That said, I hope future generations won’t get to experience Black Friday.
Personal nostalgia aside, Black Friday is a blatant attempt to get consumers to part with their money, exploiting the “season of giving” in the name of consumerism.
The wickedness of businesses.
You have to hand it to them. They’ve done an amazing job riding the coattails of Thanksgiving, making Black Friday an artificial hangover holiday entrenched deep into our collective consciousness in barely a handful of decades.
In fact, I remember Black Friday getting “bigger” every year. I remember the annual push by each store to open one before another.
I remember the disbelief of the adults, the obligatory head-shaking, followed by the continued indulgence of and participation in this bizarre ritual despite its utter absurdity.
As an adult now, I wonder if people truly enjoy this exercise. (I’d rather sleep in on Black Friday myself.)
I hope people take that into account as they start to have their own families.
By all means, hold on to your traditions. Cherish your memories.
Whatever you do, don’t let your traditions die.
But, do evolve.
Meaning lies not in keeping everything the same, replicating an experience moment to moment.
What one person finds special, another person might not even notice. Your nostalgia for the past might not be relevant to someone growing up today.
What we love about Thanksgiving is more than the turkey, football games, and ritual celebration of hyper-consumerism.
It’s about the time spent with family. The memories made.
Special moments are subtle and personal.
We need not hit people over the head, shouting…
THIS IS THANKSGIVING. Turkey, football, and Black Friday.
No. Thanksgiving is whatever you say it is. Go ahead and host a vegetarian gathering. Put on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
And the day after? It need not involve the exploitation of our fellow humans and the destruction of the planet.
And if you must shop? Shop ethical instead.*
*Unconventional Agency was a sponsor for #ethicalhour’s #ShopEthicalInstead campaign this year.