We Filipinos don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving. We have adopted most American holidays, including Halloween it seems, but not Thanksgiving. In America, the holiday is a major event. It takes on the same kind of wild and desperate traveling that can only be matched with our All Souls/ All Saints break. Well, maybe not as wild, but sometimes I think it is more important than Christmas. It is this time when families here come together and gather around a repast that seems to ask for more planning than the morning after pill. Major, major, of course, is the customary turkey, like ham is to our Noche Buena.
Truth be told, I think it’s the one holiday that’s as important as Christmas. Because, even if one does not believe in God, it holds us down to a sensible awareness of how there is so much to still be thankful for.
Thanksgiving dinner this year was with my cousins in San Jose. And, instead of the usual turkey, Cousin Carina made the extra effort of getting us all to appreciate what a tur-duck-en is (all the way from a deli shop in Los Gatos). It’s a turkey stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with wild rice and mushrooms. The bird was totally boneless, except for the legs and wings. (No carving dilemmas at all.) The entire thing weighed all of 27 pounds! We had to put it in the oven (which was, thankfully, big enough) at 11:30 the previous evening. By the time it was ready, it was past noon of Thanksgiving Day. The length of time it had to cook was more than enough for my cousin to show me how to do the rest of what a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner had to have. That is, the green bean casserole, the dressing and, the most important one of all, gravy.
Cousin Milo (who is secretly a chef) brought some wine and a rum cake so easy to make that you’d think it was made from scratch. His wife Theresa, my son Mike and his girlfriend brought enough conversation and goodwill and love and, most wonderful of all, family together that night. It was indeed an experience worth so much to be thankful for.
So for this chapter, I’d like to share my expressions of gratitude to the family I now have, with cousins who feel like real family. I am grateful to discover this gift, especially so since having to contemplate a new life at this stage, in a culture which seems so familiar, but so different at the same time, has made adjusting more than easy. I am grateful too, for my children and their father, for bringing us all here, at this place, this time (recession and all). I am grateful to my family in Davao, who continue to be my stronger ties, second only to my children. I am grateful for the chance to be grateful.
Being thankful is a state of grace where we become better attuned to the other side of negative. And, because I do believe in a most wonderful God, it makes it all the more important for this awareness of the nature of gratitude and where it lies. When one reaches 50++, life becomes shorter every year that goes by. (Especially here in America where almost everything tastes like an adventure to the palate.) But when we invest in the appreciation of where we find ourselves at wherever life takes us, it all seems more meaningful and fuller.
My sister gave me this very important insight once, some time ago. It stayed with me and has been an important part of how I have dealt with everything that happens to me and my loved ones, be it good or bad. She said that happiness is good, but it is better to aspire for joy instead. Happiness is temporary and does not really last. Joy, on the other hand, is a constant sense of quiet affection and less an emotion than a state of being.
By being thankful and acknowledging our blessings, hopefully not only on Thanksgiving Day, has made joy reign even on days when things seem to go wrong. It may be a cliché to say “count your blessings”, but it works better than dwelling on what should have been or should have happened instead.
Life is short. Especially when we are having a good time. What better way to enjoy it more than giving it our all and embracing the wonder of what has been and what will still be, by being thankful? It’s never too late to start a new tradition, even if it’s only in the family.
I hope most of us had as great a Thanksgiving as I had. (Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their experiences in their adopted countries. Dabawenya Margot Marfori is a writer and visual artist who continues to live the Davao she loves. She taught at the University of the Philippines in Mindanao from 1996 to 2002. She is now based more times of the year in Henderson, Nevada, while her youngest son is studying at UNLV, and, where her two older children in San Francisco are near enough to visit).