For a person from India who recently immigrated to the US, Thanksgiving is perhaps one festival that is too new to understand and embrace. It’s not about showing gratitude that perplexes one, as we are taught to feel thankful and obliged every minute of life. But the hype and celebrations attached to saying ‘Thanks’ is a whole new experience indeed!
In the US, Thanksgiving is a major holiday that signals the onset of festivities. Falling on the last Thursday of November, the holiday rings in Christmas and New Year that are just around the corner.
What originated as a harvest festival has become a holiday shopping season, with retailers offering discount deals that are beyond comprehension. Imagine purchasing your favourite brands and receiving a bill that reads ‘you purchased for $56 and saved $356’!
The first year we moved here, it was new to note people talking about Thanksgiving break in most of the conversations. From talk among friends that repeatedly referred to conversations like ‘let’s meet during Thanksgiving’ to project manager’s deadline calendar saying ‘let’s get this wrapped before Thanksgiving weekend’ or friendly, wise advice asking us to wait for Thanksgiving to buy the TV and laptop, everything seemed to be around this day. Such was the hype about this holiday that it made us curious and wait for the D-day.
Traditionally, families meet from far and near, and Turkey is among the most important part of the menu. This is a tradition followed meticulously since its proclamation as a national day by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to seek blessing for the families that lost their loved ones in the Civil War.
In the recent years, however, the boost to the retail trade – with businesses thanking their customers through hefty discounts – has become central to the festival focus. The Black Friday sale figures are among the key indicators that economists watch out for.
There is scope for extended breaks, as some offices and schools remain closed for the week. “This is a sure stress buster, as we are not used to breaks in November back in India.
This festival is what we wait for to chill out, particularly when we have no rituals to follow and are free to enjoy the fun of shopping,” says Geetha Agarwal, a Connecticut resident. The Indian immigrants sure add up to a great pie of the festival sale.
For many of the first-time immigrants who come with just a suitcase full of belongings, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to buy household items. “When we moved in here in August, most people advised that barring the minimum essentials, one should put on hold all purchases for the Thanksgiving sale. Huge discounts make it worth the wait,” recalls Rajiv Shah from New Jersey.
“There are freebies for the first 100 or so customers, which justifies long hours of wait in the cold,” adds Ranganathan Swami. It is not normal in the US to see malls filled with people and busy shoppers. Having grown up seeing crowded shopping spots back in India, Thanksgiving shopping scene is one of those rare moments when you feel reminded of crowd back home, he quips.
Thanksgiving Day used to be a holiday for all the shops, making it possible for all families to get together. But with the online shopping becoming popular garnering around 60 per cent of the sale, the retail stores are forced to compete by opening on Thanksgiving Thursday, too.
Electronics and branded clothes are the most-sold items. For the Indian immigrants, this is the real Deepavali, with most of us filling our wardrobe with new collections. Retailers clear their inventories to gear for the New Year stocks.
Thanksgiving, thus, has inadvertently turned to follow the pursuits of corporate America, and for most of the immigrants, it has become a routine to make a purchase on the Thanksgiving day, whether or not it is something that one desperately needs.
For the homesick college freshman, this is the first holiday break for him/her to come back home since the classes began in September. “For me, this thanksgiving is special as we will have our son, a freshman at a college in Illinois, who is coming home.
Ever since we bid him farewell in late August, I was looking for this day,” says Radhika Raman from New Jersey, for whom sending her boy out of home for studies was the toughest decision to make. “I am waiting to receive him with all his favourite food,” says excited Radhika.
The tradition of celebrating while expressing gratitude is not alien to people across the world. After all, being grateful is a universal feeling. For that – and many factors unique to the people and culture here – there is little surprise that Thanksgiving is the most celebrated festival in the US.
— The writer is a journalist based in New York