I did not grow up with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is an American holiday with its attendant traditions. Being an immigrant from Singapore, I had to learn what Thanksgiving is all about. When my husband, Lawson, and I first arrived in Illinois as international students, church friends invited us into their homes to share in their Thanksgiving celebrations and traditions. They regaled us with stories of family and customs. We feasted over turkey and its associated trimmings, which included dishes that were strange to my then southeast Asian palate. Like sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar!
A major drawback about being an immigrant is that your extended family is thousands of miles away. The traditional Thanksgiving gathering with family is simply not practical. But drawbacks come with opportunities. Through the church, we ministered to international students, scholars and their families. So, we created our own extended family – a family of international friends who had no other family in the U.S. In the early years, I would cook the American Thanksgiving meal for 75 to 80 people. My helper team comprised mostly international women who all wanted to learn how to roast the big bird, prepare mashed potatoes, make cranberry sauce from scratch, and put together that ubiquitous green bean casserole. International friends would contribute to the meal by bringing a sumptuous dish from their own countries. Our children grew up thinking of Thanksgiving (and Christmas) as huge international celebrations. In more recent times, we have invited international friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with us in our home. We have downsized the crowd to 12 to 20 people due to space limitations. After turkey and pumpkin pie, our international friends help set up our Christmas tree, a first for many of them who do not come from countries where Christmas is celebrated in homes.
The current pandemic is, alas, an unwelcomed gamechanger and a major disruption to our beloved traditions. We will not have international friends over. I will truly miss the joy of having people from many nations present at our Thanksgiving table as well as the fun of seeing international friends decorate a Christmas tree for the first time. Thanksgiving this year will be a four-person family affair. Our two adult children plan to come home (as of the time of writing). JohnMark will do a COVID test before returning; Andreana is observing a strict 14-day quarantine. A quieter Thanksgiving. The turkey will be smaller.
Yet again, drawbacks bring opportunities. This time, the pandemic opens the opportunity to focus less on hosting and more on thankfulness.
In spite of the pandemic and its related concerns, there is much to be thankful for. I am so thankful for family – our family here and my sisters and their families across the ocean. The bonds of love remain strong and are much cherished. I am ever grateful for meaningful work, challenging but fulfilling. For the support of colleagues and friends. For home and shelter. Health and sustenance. Rest and refreshment. Faith, love, and grace. A good reminder of what really matters in the long term.
We may have to scale back celebrations, but there is no scaling back on the spirit of gratitude and thankfulness.
Dr. Lau shares her favorite holiday recipe:
Some 30 years ago, I found this mashed potato recipe in a cookbook (when cookbooks were still a thing). I have since prepared it almost every Thanksgiving.
- 8 potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender
- 1 stick of butter (4 oz), softened
- 1 cup of sour cream
- 1 packet of cream cheese (8 oz), at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons of chopped chives
- 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Drain and mash the potatoes with the butter, sour cream, cream cheese, chives, and spices.
- Spoon into a buttered casserole.
- Bake 40 to 50 minutes in a preheated 350°F oven, until the surface is golden.
This may be prepared the day before through step two and refrigerated. Two hours before baking, remove from the fridge and let stand at room temperature. Then bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 40 to 50 minutes.