What was this holiday in November?
A Russian immigrant learns what American Thanksgiving is all about.
"I'm not celebrating Thanksgiving."Skip to next paragraph
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"It's their holiday. I don't know what it's about. Besides, what's there to celebrate?"
I looked at the middle-aged Russian woman. She had settled in our town recently, and I hardly knew her. Yet, I knew her very well, for, reflected in her tired eyes, I saw myself many Thanksgivings ago.
Every time I heard the phone ring, I felt like dashing to the bedroom, covering my head with a pillow, and pretending that I was still in Moscow.
The honeymoon phase of immigration had passed – when the never-before-seen abundance of food sent me into a trance, and aisles of Wal-Mart clothes thrilled me as much as a field trip to Lenin's Mausoleum. But a new reality had set in – a nagging fear that I'd never make it in America and that bringing my young daughter here was the most irresponsible thing I had ever done.
The phone kept ringing. I picked it up, muttered, "I don't speak English," and immediately hung up. At night, it rang again, and my daughter, who knew some English, answered it.
"The Hermanns are inviting us over for Thanksgiving dinner," she translated.
"Thanksgiving? What's that?"
"What's it about?"
"I'm not sure."
Americans had invited us to meals before, and I appreciated their effort, although not the food. One family cooked us a Mexican dinner. The only thing I knew about Mexican culture was that they wore sombreros. As for the food, I had no idea what it consisted of, so when I bit into a jalapeño pepper, I was surprised and unprepared for the spicy aftereffect. The alarmed hosts rushed to me with a glass of ice water, the only drink they had at that meal. Where I came from, nobody served tap water to guests.
Another time, we were invited to a Chinese restaurant. I wasn't familiar with Chinese food either. Also, we weren't given knives and forks, and I couldn't eat with the chopsticks they gave me. So I left that feast hungry.
On Thanksgiving, I timidly opened the door of a two-story brick house from which came wonderful aromas of food. What were we celebrating?
Back in Russia, we celebrated the anniversary of the Great Socialist Revolution in the fall. A large military parade took place in Moscow's Red Square. Rocket launchers, nuclear missiles, and tanks shook the square's cobblestones, thousands of troops goose-stepped, and "volunteer" factory workers paraded past Lenin's red-granite mausoleum, where high government officials waved and smiled to shouts of "Slava!" (glory) from the crowd.