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Giving Thanks


Every family is different.

My sister loves Christmas, it is her day. She stays up all night wrapping toys for her kids, happy as could be.

Me, I love Thanksgiving. It is my holiday. While I love the turkey and the food, and if you need recipe help, you can find it at the News Blog Food Blog, that's not why I like it.

It is because it is the most American of holidays.

Sure, there's a big show on the 4th of July, but if you grow up black in America, it is, at best a mixed holiday. All the flagwaving puts some people off. Personally, I hate fireworks. I hate the noise and the smell, and the way that the idiots come out waving flags.

Besides, any day in the summer can be the 4th.

But Thanksgiving is special, because it is the most American. Everybody brings something different to the table, but it's all about a single idea of what being an American is about. The Thanksgiving turkey, more than any other American symbol is a uniting figure. Now, two percent of Americans are vegetarians, and others have other meats, like goose or duck, but for 95 percent of Americans, turkey and Thanksgiving are a unifying figure.

The thing is though, if you ask around, everyone has a different table for the holidays, different sides, different drinks. And that comes from the traditions and heritage we bring from our families and our past.

My family originally comes from the low country of South Carolina. I'm a second generation New Yorker, but my table reflects the low country tradition. We have rice, baked macaroni, yams, stuffing, vegetables. Now, as a kid, our grandmother lived with us, so family holidays centered around our home. We had the same basic menu every year, and well into adulthood, it didn't vary. Why should it?

When someone mentioned that they had mashed potatoes or pasta at their Thanksgiving table, I kind of noted it and stored it away. I never realized how different a Thanksgiving table could look from my own.

My sister, who lives in Boston now, is inflicted with the multiple Thanksgivings of New England. Yesterday, her son's school had their Thanksgiving dinner. Every year, she brings something like yams or baked macaroni and people eat it up. For the curious, and I have a recipe on my blog, it is simply macaroni and cheese baked in a casserole in an oven until firm. We never really thought much about it, honestly. Until I posted a recipe on the News Blog and people went nuts for it, the same with my sister's real world experience.

Hell, I didn't even know there was a low country cuisine until I was in my late 30's. To my entire family, separated from my youth by marriage and time, it was just what we ate. When I told my cousin, who had spent five years in Japan with her Air Force officer husband, who is from Texas, that there was a name for what we ate, she was surprised as I had been. I had literally looked in a cookbook and recognized a recipe from my family. I think I had dug up the recipe for red rice, a staple from my childhood of rice cooked down with tomato sauce. With potato salad and fried chicken, it was a summer dinner.

But the reason I bring this up here, and not as a food post on my blog is this: Thanskgiving is the celebration of the real America.

It allows every American to define his or her citizenship, his personal beliefs and desires and celebrate their culture while celebrating America.

You have the turkey and the stuffing, but everything from noodle kugel to soba noodles can stand beside it. Italian fish dishes and Mexican rice are equally at home.

The strength of the American identity is that you can keep your heritage and share the values of our country.

Which is why the move to deny children of illegal aliens citizenship is such a horrible mistake.

We don't really care where you come from, but what you do. When people want to destroy one of the founding blocks of what an American is, your birthright, because of their myopia or racism, they don't seem to understand what America is really about, which is unity in diversity.

There is no religious barrier, Muslims and Jews can celebrate along with Christians, blacks and whites and Asians, even illegal aliens and the homeless can take part. The only thing required is living where Americans live. The military tries to send a Thanksgiving meal to every serviceman overseas, even those in combat. That is what the day means, not only emotionally, but to our national identity.

We have a day, not to celebrate a political or religious event, but our identity as a country, and as a people. A people unified by a roast, or fried or smoked turkey. Or tofurky.

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Steve Gilliard

Steve Gilliard