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Hijabs and Turkeys: Your Average Thanksgiving Dinner

The savory smell of comfort and mashed potatoes infiltrates the air. My cousins giggle as they race each other downstairs, sliding on the rugs like snowboarders and bumping into walls at full speed. My dad and uncles quarrel over sports in the living room, each brother splayed out on the leather black sofas as the fireplace crackles next to them. My mom and aunts both brag and complain about the kids in the dining room, a cup of chai in one hand, bracelets rattling on the other as they emphasize their points. I help my grandma set the table, meticulously aligning the forks and knives and filling each glass with exactly five ice cubes (it’s the perfect amount of cold). We were getting ready for our Thanksgiving feast. It’s your typical holiday dinner. Well, except for the fact that my grandmother wears a hijab and my grandfather has a copy of the Quran on his bedside table.

My father is 100% Iranian. That is, the Iran in the Middle East, the greatly feared region. Think about the word Muslim. Now, what is the first thought that comes to mind? It is widely known that recently, Islamophobia has been especially prevalent around the world. Media has not been especially kind in representing the religion and unfortunately, with terrorist groups claiming to be “Islamic,” people get the impression that the religion is one of violence. This, however, could not be further from the truth.

I’ve grown up in between two different religions. One of them is Christianity. The other is Islam. Through all my years of observation, I see no real difference. Islam is believed to be barbaric; however, it is known to anyone that is a true follower of the religion that the idea of violence is forbidden. As stated in the Quran, “If any one killed a person, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind.”

My grandparents on both my mother and father’s side of the family are loving, light-hearted people. My mamojoon (grandma) has a great sense of humor. She loves to dance to the “hip” music being played on the radio and has a great sense of fashion. She runs a business out of her house as a seamstress.  

In some of my younger days, I would sneak downstairs in the morning when I slept over her house. I crept down the long hallway in the basement to the laundry room and would crawl under the racks of clothes hanging to dry. As I popped up, it was as if I entered a different land. There was the door to my mamojoon’s sacred sewing room, in which she performed all of her magic. She made all different types of clothes, however I was especially entranced watching her make wedding dresses. The long, smooth material she would work with was elegant and luxurious. I would only dream of how perfect a wedding day could be for whoever got to wear my grandmother’s work.

Another great memory I have with her is when my mamojoon took my siblings and I to the mall. We were standing outside JCPenney. A group of teenage boys strolled past us, all wearing their pants low with their boxers sticking out because they were “cool.” Concerned, my mamojoon turned to us. “I don’t think those boys know their pants are falling down! I’m going to go tell them.” I had to stop her from going over and explain that that was the style these days, to which she laughed at, shaking her head while saying “kids these days.”

My babozorg (grandfather) loves to crack his own jokes. He is retired; however, he loves to tell me stories of his time as a doctor, and how much joy it gave him to know he was helping people. On the side, he pursues poetry, as he loves to write and express his feelings through a pen. Sometimes I like to think I got my passion from him. He always offers me money when I see him, telling me to “buy myself something nice.”

Some of my fondest memories include my visit to Iran when I was eight years old. I remember arriving there, amazed at the friendly smiles on people’s faces as my foreign family passed through. People would come up to us, kindly greeting our family, “Welcome to our home, I hope you enjoy your stay!” The relatives’ houses we went to would make sure we were having the most comfortable of stays, offering us chai and sweets. They would make us feasts and offer us seconds, thirds, to make sure we were well fed and satisfied. The meals would consist of wonderful meats, rices, and vegetables, like lamb, chicken, eggplant, lemon, spinach, and peas. My favorite dish is one called Fesenjan. It is a chicken stew that is flavored with walnuts and pomegranate syrup. It is just sweet enough, however it has a nice tang and savoriness with the shredded chicken and walnuts. I love to have it with saffron rice and cranberries, as it adds that extra flavor. And then after we digested, they would play music for the kids to dance to and would get out cards for the adults to play.

Iranian culture is so beautiful. I remember all the different cities I visited there—Isfahan, Yazd and Tehran. Tehran was a cool city, however I adored both Isfahan and Yazd. When I vacationed there, our first stop was to Isfahan. We stayed in a five-star hotel for three days, and I distinctly remember both the service and the lobby. The staff there was so accomodating—they were hospitable and warm as they greeted us and led us to our room, asking if there was anything we needed. And the lobby was breathtaking, as it was covered in velvet red material. Plush, dark red velvet sofa cushions, and the same colored rug. The walls were a nice, vibrant mahogany.

After our visit there, we went to see my great-grandmother. She lived in Yazd, where we stayed the longest. I remember the small but comfortable house. The living room was vast and covered in Persian rugs. And my favorite place to go was the backyard. It was there that she had tons of orange trees growing, and where she had chickens she cared for. I liked to watch them, though I never got too close. Her neighbors were all so kind and would bring me snacks when I was outside and ask me about my day. All I remember were smiles on everyone’s faces. 

I love my family. They are some of the best, most selfless people I know. Therefore, it hurts me to think people judge others just like them before getting to know them. Sadly, this year for Thanksgiving my grandparents are visiting Iran, which means we won’t be able to celebrate with them. With the holiday fast approaching, however, this helps me realize how thankful I am for all the times I do get to spend with my family. No matter what your religion, we all are just human

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Kathryn Fallah

U Mass Amherst

Hey there!  Thanks for visiting my page. My name is Kathryn and I'm a Journalism major at Umass Amherst. Some of my favorite things are Billy Joel, matcha drinks, and my four guinea pigs. 
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