Thankgiving: How and why we celebrate
Ava Antilla – Los Angeles

Thanksgiving is the holiday that best represents what is great about this country. It has a beautiful history that has a special meaning for immigrants, people coming to a new land. It is about loving, sharing, appreciating one another, teaching and helping newcomers to a new place. Sharing the bounty of the earth was the beginning. When the Pilgrims came to America, their new home, they knew nothing about how to get by in the harsh and challenging world. The Native American Indians not only shared their harvest, they taught them their survival skills.

As newcomers to America, our small Finnish family was also warmly welcomed and helped along by our new neighbors. And, we were invited to share in this special annual celebration. Hospitality on Thanksgiving focuses on a food feast, but rejoices in the friendship and support shared throughout the year for which we are so thankful. Now, as we welcome family and friends to our home for Thanksgiving we always try to include those who are new to a place far away from ‘home’.

For many years we have made a special effort to welcome the Finnish Consular staff who do so much to take care of matters of importance for our fellow Finns. Many on short ‘posting’ cycles get to experience a uniquely American celebration for the first time—they usually come back the next year! And, this is a family event unlike many of their duty assignments.

The Thanksgiving celebration begins with a toast of welcome to our guests. Every year there are newcomers: new to America, new to the community, new to our circle of friends. There are some who come from out of town, out of state, or out of the country. All who have been with us know they are always welcome to return—and they do.

Our family cherishes the ‘purity’ of the Thanksgiving holiday which has no purpose other than to pause and be grateful for the good people and good things in our lives. By tradition, we all join hands for the blessing–giving thanks for our bounty, for fellowship, and for the food we are about to share. It is also a quiet time for remembering those loved ones who are not with us. Then, the feasting begins.

Tables are set under several hundred year old oaks for the repast. The usually warm California sun makes everyone feel happy—this year it may require man-made heaters.

We call ours a Southern California Thanksgiving because the food includes the bounty of California: artichoke dip with parmesan and garlic, root vegetable soups and salads, desserts from the citrus trees. Turkeys are usually prepared 3 to 4 different ways: oven roasted, rotisseried, smoked, and sometimes deep fried. The baked ham is always tasty—and graavilohi makes the Finns feel at home. Side dishes are stuffing (an American mixture of bread cubes, ground sausage, celery, onions and variations of mushrooms, water chestnuts and the like), mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes (a family recipe always requested by guests), green beans with applewood smoked bacon, and balsamic glazed onions. The ‘chefesse’ adds other items prepared from ingredients that may be calling out her name at the local farmer’s market that week. A bountiful dessert buffet follows …

While everyone relaxes, or goes back for seconds or second seconds, most feel the need to take a nap as they slip into the comfortable ‘food coma’ of the day. [Americans have been known to disappear into a room with a TV to check the football score of the game they missed.] While overeating is not required, it is traditional! Diets are not permitted to exist on this day.

At day’s end, we are so happy to have celebrated a day of joy, sharing, fellowship, remembrance, and thanksgiving. This is a holiday with nothing commercial, no gifts, no expectations, no fussiness–just appreciation for life, for friends old and new, for goodness and kindness. On this day it is good to be an American—or to know one who can cook!!

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