Whether you live in a collectivist or individualistic society, there are always occasions for families to come together around a big feast and spend time quality time catching up.
Growing up in Vietnam, a collectivist country, one of those occasions is the death anniversary of someone in the family, usually a great-grandparent who had passed away before I was born.
A few members of the family would spend time preparing for the feast, either making about a dozen of different dishes like spring rolls, stir-fried veggies, boiled chicken, soup with glass noodles; or pre-ordering the ones that require more time to make such as gấc sticky rice. The meal is then presented on an altar for about half an hour, the amount of time it takes for an incense stick to burn and for the spirit of our ancestors to enjoy the food we had prepared for them and then taken down for the whole family to feast.
I never believed in the religious aspect of this tradition (putting the food on the altar and praying) but I had always appreciated the fact that it brought all members of the extended family together. This is probably why I enjoy hosting big dinners and bringing friends together and one of the most recent occasions where I got to do that was Canadian Thanksgiving.
Canada celebrates Thanksgiving a month before the States because being further up north, harvest season ends a bit earlier.
Although I don’t doubt that many Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in its true sense, I actually happen to know very few Canadians in my social circle who would say they celebrate it. But having some friends from abroad who would experience their first Thanksgiving in Canada, I thought I could show them a proper Canadian Thanksgiving dinner for the first time.
Baking the turkey took me an entire day but since I always enjoyed cooking, the challenge of trying a new recipe for the first time was actually quite fun! My kitchen reminded me much of my mom’s kitchen on the days we had the death anniversary (giỗ in Vietnamese) with the sink full of dirty dishes and utensils that I used while preparing the stuffing and the turkey.
Usually in Vietnam, whenever we have giỗ, a few women of the family would gather together and prepare the dinner, much like how a Canadian family would prepare the Thanksgiving feast together.
The amount of cutlery and dishes in the kitchen would stack up and like an assembly line, you would have 2/3 of the team preparing the food and using the dishes and the other 1/3, usually the younger and less experienced in the kitchen, cleaning the dishes so they could be used again if needed. I remember being the teenage dish cleaner, and the occasional veggie cutter, during these events.
Although the preparation process and the dishes served are different in both cultures, the common trait I love about these big dinners is the atmosphere and its meaning for me: reconnecting with people. After spending a few years in Canada, I had the chance to attend a giỗ dinner this past summer in Vietnam with my extended family whom I haven’t seen in 3 years and reconnect with some aunts and uncles, and mostly cousins who are now all grown up and starting their careers.
The Thanksgiving dinner was also an opportunity for me to reconnect with people after a year and a half out of the country. With friends of diverse background, I managed to gather about 12 different cultures around a large table and for many of us, this was the first time we were celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving.
It’s incredible to see how much people can change within a year, their interests and hobbies, their career choices and life goals, and you even find out about their hilarious dark sense of humour you never knew was there before. There is no going wrong with good food, good conversations, hysterical stories and maybe a bit/a lot of wine too!