Louis M. Glackens, Puck Magazine, 1904 (Library of Congress)

UDLAP Note: In this essay Jennifer Stott shows how knowing the origins of a holiday can change your perspective–or the way you feel–about a certain holiday. Because we as Mexicans (who are also “American”) do not celebrate this festivity, we have many questions! What does the author do for Thanksgiving now? What are her opinions on gender roles during holidays? What does her family thinks about her not celebrating it? And does eating fake turkey change Thanksgiving’s meaning?

Like every other house on the block, when I was a child, my family chose to celebrate one of the core holidays of the American tradition: Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving sometimes included extended family, depending upon who we were on good terms with during that year; usually, because she lived a few miles away, my grandmother would be invited for dinner. She’d sit on the couch, or in the rocking chair, a soda in her lap while she waited, like the rest of us, for dinner. Maybe the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade would still be marching on the television, or perhaps it would be past noon and the National Dog Show would already be airing. I never quite understood why there was a dog pageant, but for as long as I can remember, it’s been there right after the Thanksgiving Day Parade, something to make background noise or chat idly about as the smells of turkey permeated the small house.

Usually, my mother would work alone in the kitchen until she decided I was old enough, and therefore not so much of a hazard, to help her peel potatoes, chop onions, pluck marshmallows out of plastic bags. Some Thanksgivings, while the turkey sweltered in the oven, she and I would bring the menu to life: green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, (usually) canned corn, macaroni and cheese. Only when we had everything scooped into “the good tableware,” the pale China dish set, and wrapped under aluminum foil was it time for everyone (well, everyone who was invited that year, anyhow) to gather around the dining room table–already set with the holiday silverware.

I didn’t really come from a religious family, but my grandmother was Catholic and often offered up a blessing. Some years, the equivalent of a prayer was an awkward, uncertain glance around the table, the scraping of a half-dozen chair legs, and a quiet thanks to my mother. Mostly, we’d eat quietly, without saying much besides “pass the salt.” I don’t know what it is about the holidays, but for my family, it makes church mice of us. After dinner, perhaps an hour, it’s time for pie: always store bought, usually apple, since the only people who really like pumpkin pie in my family are me and my brother. By the time everyone’s scraped their plates of pie filling, it’s high time to clean–a task that’s never shared amongst the family. More often than not, my mother is the one who has to scrub dishes and clear away crumbs; my sister and I help her wherever we can. I suppose it’s just tradition, an odd, unspoken gender divide, but it’s not one I’ve warmed up to.

I never really considered the shadowy half of history, the framework for the holiday, until I grew into my adolescent years. Before that, I was blissfully ignorant, content to pile turkey onto my plate and stuff myself with stuffing. But as I learned more and more of the relationship between the natives and the settlers, the American tradition of Thanksgiving has grown cold for me. Now that I’m in my 20s, a vegetarian and a little more knowledgeable about history, Thanksgiving looks a lot different for me: for one, I eat Tofurky and, invariably, am urged to remind everyone at the table about the true relationship between the native people and the colonists. It’s bound to turn a few heads away from their plates. It’s sort of funny how holidays can adapt, for holidays are, afterall, founded on tradition. But new traditions, new habits, keep the holidays relevant.