Thanksgiving in a Middle-Eastern Family

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, especially because of my heritage. No, I’m not American, I’m pure Lebanese— and that has its perks. Sure, everyone has family over and has a big meal, but what most people don’t have is my mom’s amazing Lebanese cuisine, my family either screaming or laughing at each other in Arabic (depending on the mood), and the sense of accomplishment when you finally move up from the kid's table to the adult table. Thanksgiving gives my family a reason to come together, and by family, I mean my parents, my two brothers, my mom’s two brother’s (including one's wife and two kids), my dad’s brother (including HIS wife and two kids), my grandparents and whatever friends we decide to grace with this amazing experience. It’s… a lot, but it’s also everything. To break it down for you, this day happens in stages.

Stage One: The Preparation

In the morning, my grandma and mom slave away in the kitchen for hours, trying to get all the food prepared. I’ll make the occasional salad if I’m feeling particularly guilty for my lack of cooking abilities. The guests arrive around noon for some pre-dinner football and assorted nuts that I always end up binging on. While the men be men, the ladies help my mom and grandma out in the kitchen. I’ll usually stand over the guys and encourage them to break gender stereotypes by joining the cooking crew – and fail every time. Amid the screams and cheers at the television, I help set up two tables. One is in the fancy room with the fancy plates and silverware and fancy napkins. The other is a foldable table with less fancy plates and napkins, and a couple foldable chairs; this one is designated for the kids. Every year, I wished to stop being seated with the kids, and this year, I’m moving on up!

Stage Two: The Dinner

Dinner takes place around 4 p.m.— yeah, you read that right. Every inch of the table is taken by some Lebanese dish. We have our two salads, fattoush and tabouli, served in the biggest mixing bowls you’ve ever seen. We have some chicken and rice seasoned with cinnamon and other Lebanese spices I can’t quite pronounce. We have kibe, grape leaves, spinach pies, kafta and a bunch of other Lebanese dishes that you’d only know by being exposed to authentic Lebanese food. However, since we’ve assimilated into American culture, we do have a turkey as the star of the show, along with sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and your basic French fries. All together, it’s basically perfection. We all sit at our designated tables and dig in. Politics will immediately dominate the conversation, then we move on to football, and then to random topics spoken in Arabic so the kids won’t understand (at least they think I don’t understand). We all take plate after plate until eventually, all the serving plates are empty and our bellies are full.

Stage Three: The Dessert

Oh, the dessert. At first, we try to be healthy. We bring out a huge assortment of fruits that include grapes, peaches, nectarines, plums, oranges and anything else you can imagine. We all pick at it, but we secretly are longing for what’s hiding in the kitchen. After we feel good about ourselves for giving fruit a try, the real fun begins. Out comes the chocolate strawberries, the eclairs, the random Lebanese dessert that reminds all of the adults of their childhoods. We binge again until we physically can’t breathe. There’s a lot left over, and in true Lebanese fashion, my grandma and mom push the plates in everyone’s faces and guilt them into taking “just one more” at least eight times. Once they’ve given up, stage four commences.

Stage Four: The Cool Down

We’ve moved back to the living room now. Everyone’s sprawled out on the couch, bellies protruding and buttons undone. Some try to make conversation, but all anyone’s thinking about is taking that post-dinner nap that my grandpa’s already snoring through. People start to leave little by little, and we all share “see you soon’s” and “I love you’s,” but we all know that life is busy and the next time we’ll be together is Christmas. That’s why this is the most special holiday. Yes, the food is great, but having that one day that you cancel all your plans just to spend time with your family is definitely something special.

Now that I’m in college, I lack those home cooked meals and seeing my family. I’ve been counting down the days to Thanksgiving since I left, and now that it’s next week, my heart is already a little fuller. The thought of seeing my baby cousins, my two puppies and everyone I love is enough to make me eager to hop on that six hour economy flight— and that is why Thanksgiving will forever be my favorite holiday.