Filipino Thanksgiving

AROUND this time every year, I feel a bit nostalgic. I miss the turkey and the pecan pies – my favorites from the Thanksgiving staples. Seeing such a big fowl cook in the oven was always something to behold. Chicken and other birds can only get so big in the Philippines. I sometimes miss the sight of children dressed in pilgrim and Indian costumes, cornucopias overflowing with food, and hues of yellow and orange everywhere. It reminded me that I was in a different country, experiencing a different culture.

But of course, the valenciana, dinuguan, and a big bowl of steaming white rice always brought me back to the home I was living under. For my family, and the many other Filipino families in the States, we bring the very distinct Filipino qualities to the American tradition.

Yesterday, Twitter once again was quick to trend a new hashtag to celebrate the occasion, perfectly capturing how our fellow kababayans abroad have adapted in their new homes. Tweets with the hashtag #ThanksgivingWithFilipinoFamilies have been spreading among Fil-Am circles, bringing laughs as it seems that, while Filipinos abroad are quick to blend in with foreign cultures, many have a hard time shaking off some very quirky characteristics that make them so Pinoy. You can take the Filipino out of the Philippines, but you can never take the Philippines out of the Filipino.

After a whole afternoon of going through the hilarious tag, it seems that there were a few expressing some very relatable, very Filipino something.

Whether you’re in the Philippines or a thousand miles away from it, it is always important to show respect to your elders by blessing the hand of every relative. Before the Thanksgiving dinner even starts, all the children have to make a round in the house and mano everyone. While a very common practice of showing respect for elders here in the Philippines, first generation Fil-Ams abroad see this as a very foreign tradition.

And in Filipino households, everyone is your tita or tito, whether you’re related by blood or not. Filipinos keep close ties to friends and neighbors, that sometimes, we’re not quite sure if ‘Tita Baby’ or ‘Tito Jun’ is really our aunt or uncle, or just a really close family friend. But blood-relatives or not, we know that we can always turn to them for anything, like a real family.

A tita’s or a lola’s greeting will always be about how much you have grown – either in height or age or by weight. It seems to be a usual thing for titas and lolas to point out the physical changes everyone has underwent. While for Americans, commenting on one’s appearance, especially on the sensitive topic of one’s weight or age, is seen as lacking on tact, for Filipinos, it is a show of concern and affection.

Leave it to your tita to remind you how much weight you’ve gained in her most caring and loving accent. And even when they’ve spent 10 minutes telling you how fat you’ve gotten, they would still fill your plate with food.

While some like to stick with tradition and have a big turkey as the main dish, it would not be a celebration without the usual Filipino party dishes like lechon, pancit, sweet-style spaghetti with hotdogs and cheese.

There is always an entertainment portion of the evening. Parents love making their young children entertain the relatives with a song or dance number. The older children are in charge with creating the program with cousins. And even later, the night even gets more exciting when someone breaks out the Karaoke machine and all the titas and titas croon to their favorite ballads.

Last but not the least, Thanksgiving is one of the American holidays where relatives make the drive all the way home to the parents’ house or to the house of whomever is the host for the year. For some, it is considered the most important holiday as it is the one holiday where people make it home to spend time with the family. Some families do not even make the travel to gather even on other big holidays like Christmas.

Being the one time a year where the family is complete, expect the women of the family to have months of gossip to catch up on. Even when social media like Facebook has made it so easy to chat with relatives living miles away, a gathering would not be complete without seeing your mom with all your titas trying to catch up on years of stories about their lives and work, as well as that of others.
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