Nine years ago I was the stranger at someone’s Thanksgiving dinner.
It was 2004, I had moved to Houston only three weeks earlier and knew very few people. I had not yet acquired any vacation time, and I had to work Friday, anyway. The plan was to stay in my small apartment and watch TV until an acquaintance from college who happened to be living in Houston invited me to join him at his friend’s celebration.
I had never met this friend of his, but she had been gracious enough to let me join her and her family. A Vietnamese family settled in Houston for years, their dinner included the traditional turkey, which her dad ate with chopsticks, and shark fin soup. After dinner, she proceeded to make fresh spring rolls for us to take home. I loved every minute of that evening, it was so fun and so quintessentially American with its medley of cultures and traditions.
Growing up, we always celebrated Thanksgiving, sometimes just the four of us, sometimes with friends who enjoyed taking part of the American holiday. Because we lived in Spain where Thanksgiving is not a holiday, the celebration was often held the Saturday after. There wasn’t football to watch, but we always had turkey and pumpkin pie, which my mom was able to make because when we visited the U.S. she would stock up on cans of pumpkin puree. It was around Thanksgiving that I felt very American.
When I moved to New England to go to college, Thanksgiving changed a bit. I was excited to celebrate with my mom’s family a couple of times, and with friends on other occasions. I learned about the parades, and the shopping the day after, but it wasn’t until I had that meal in Houston, however, that I understood the meaning of the Holiday. Not the history of the U.S., which obviously is important, but the conscious act of being thankful for what we have and sharing it with others.
Since that day, I have made a point to invite people who don’t have anywhere else to go on Thanksgiving to join my family for dinner, even when I am not the one hosting. We’ve had coworkers over, and one year two soldiers who had just arrived in Fort Riley and didn’t know anyone. This year, I invited a new friend whose husband is deployed, although happily she had family to share dinner with. Every time we’ve had people over, I’ve felt honored to have been able to share our meal with them.
The day I was the stranger, not only did I have a wonderful time, I made two great friends, my college acquaintance who has proven to be the most generous, loyal and fun friend to both me and my husband, and his friend, a dear girlfriend of mine now who I will always love.
So for anyone who this year had strangers or acquaintances over for Thanksgiving, thank you. I was a stranger once at someone’s house, and I could not have been more grateful.