Thanksgiving: A Fujianese American New Year

chinese thanksgiving

credit: Eater DC

I remember dashing through the busy streets of East Broadway, trying to avoid a head-on collision with the giant moving pallet of dragon fruits.  In the distance, skillfully dodging through the sea of people; my mother was picking out baskets of persimmons; haggling and calling my dad simultaneously.  This describes a typical week leading up to Thanksgiving for my family.

Thanksgiving is arguably the most celebrated holiday for Fujianese Americans–even more so than Chinese New Year.  The importance of Thanksgiving in Fujianese culture can be seen all over major Fujianese American hubs, particularly, East Broadway. During this holiday, the population balloons as restaurant workers and families migrate into the city and embrace each other over meals in overcrowded stalls.  You’ll see young men line up by barber shops waiting to get coiffed, while ladies with Gucci bags push large carts filled with seafood and greens.  If you’re Fujianese, you’ll likely run into old friends or distant relatives since entire villages of Fujianese have literally been transplanted onto these narrow blocks.  To many, this holiday is a luxury; a day free of worry from mortgages or finding a cook.

Dollars and Sense

To figure out why this whole group of people have identified Thanksgiving as their national day off, we have to turn to the dominant occupation of FJ Americans: Restaurateurs; many of whom are carrying massive financial burdens to support their families and pay off snakeheads.  Out of necessity, traditional American and Chinese holidays transformed into opportunities.  While most American restaurant owners may be away celebrating New Year or Christmas, Chinese restaurants and dumpling parlors remain open for business.  When Justice Elena Kagan was asked how she spent her previous Christmas, she famously replied: “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese Restaurant.”  Senator Chuck Schumer then explained, “If I might, no other restaurants are open.”  These quotes provide further evidence of Thanksgiving as a natural middle ground for opportunistic Fujianese restaurateurs.

A Cultural Convention

On any given Thanksgiving day, you may notice columns of stretched limousines, battling traffic between banquets.  These drivers are servicing the myriad of Fujianese couples who eagerly squeezed their wedding celebration into this holiday in an attempt to attract families and friends.  There was that one year when our family was invited to three weddings on the same day and my dad RSVPed me to all three. Beyond weddings, congregations of Fujianese socialites and businessmen find opportunities to meet, network, and celebrate.  From old high school reunions to former co-workers, the streets of Chinatown bustle like the national Fujianese Convention.  To some families, this was the perfect venue to find a match for their sons and daughters.  Even yours truly has had that awkward surprised matchmaking encounter. It’s simply a rite of passage for your Fujianese upbringing :).

For a holiday with such a strong emphasis on gratitude, it’s fitting that hundreds of thousands of Fujianese have embraced Thanksgiving as their own.  The dinner table is often covered with elaborate meals that Grandma’s been prepping for days.  In the tiny NYC apartment, generations of aunts, uncles, cousins, and nieces huddle around each other as they joke and exchange stories.  In that single moment, we’re not only able to escape our everyday monotony, but also to express our appreciation for the opportunities (however harsh and unrelenting) that this country has afforded us.  And that’s worthy of our thanks.  

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