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Thanksgiving as Friendsgiving: What ‘Real’ Indians in Their Adopted Homeland Make of This All-American Holiday

Thanksgiving as Friendsgiving: What ‘Real’ Indians in Their Adopted Homeland Make of This All-American Holiday

  • To most Indians, Thanksgiving fits perfectly with their worldview as, unlike July 4th or Christmas, Thanksgiving is neither religious nor associated with any political figure from American history that they can’t identify with.

Thanksgiving in this era of turmoil the world over –mass shootings, the war in Ukraine, talk of inflation and recession around the corner – it’s a wonder we all try to stay cheerful and hopeful. But hopeful and thankful we must remain as immigrants in this country of our choosing. Ask any American Indian and they will happily confirm that the tradition of Thanksgiving celebration has evolved to be “Friendsgiving.” This Thanksgiving is no exception for our family and our friends here in Minnesota and elsewhere.

We recently celebrated a “Friendsgiving” at our home in Minnesota. We feasted on home-cooked Indian meals of butter chicken, kheer, bhindi masala, chatpatti aloo and ma kee dal. The one nod to Thanksgiving was my Turkey sheik kababs – the complete antithesis of the traditional turkey meal – spicy and full of flavors that burst in your mouth. Wine flowed freely as did Bourbon and Scotch, but one thing constant was the fact that we immigrants can’t do without our friends and our food.
“Friends lift my spirit and make me happy,” says Amrita Gadhoke who despite not having enough free time (with two puppies, a husband and two kids as well as being a full-time environmental health and safety professional at a large medical insurance company), she cheers-up herself and her friends with oodles of parties and homemade laddoos that she loves to sneak into her friends’ bags for fun.

At their Minnesota home with husband Rajeev and son Puru the author Kuhu Singh celebrates “Friendship Day” with friends. Top photo, Singh with her girlfriends, from left, Anshu Sharma, Jyotika Gujral, Richa Badwal, Rakhi Bhatiya Arora and Jyoti Wadhwa at Rakhi and Sundeep Arora’s Thanksgiving Day dinner last year.

Jyotika Gujral, her husband Tarun (both IT professionals) and their children Iesh, a pre-med student and 11-year-old Aarav reflect and appreciate the blessings their family has “and also acknowledge that not everyone is as fortunate as we all are. To me this day is a reminder to stay happy and make others happy by sharing and caring.”

Ramnik Aneja, an IT Professional who lives in the Twin Cities suburb of Maple Grove with her husband Prabhjeet Batra (also in IT) and kids – college junior Harsheen and 12-year-old Arjan — says “Thanksgiving to us means, being thankful for the bounties and blessings we have had in our lives in form of friends and families. It is an opportunity to teach our kids to live their lives with gratitude.”

Kuhu Singh with her friend Amrita Gadhoke, Amrita Mujundan and Molika Gupta.

The family makes sure to celebrate actual Thanksgiving Day with just them over a simple meal and join friends for more elaborate spreads later in the week. “We rejoice with our friends with a hearty meal, but we also make sure that our family of four sits down and has a meal where each one of us prepares a dish and bring it to the table and each one of us writes a note of what we are thankful for,” she says. “Our family thanksgiving meal has also become more like — keep your electronics and gadgets away, slow down and appreciate each other’s company, share a laugh and make memories for coming years,” she adds.

Radha Chavali, a CIO with a tech services company and her CTO husband Kash Seethamraju with their two daughters Sanjana and Sumi celebrate Thanksgiving religiously, as they do their Indian festivals throughout the year. “With few of our own families around, friends are the family we choose. To us, Thanksgiving stands for the essence of togetherness and gratefulness for the life that we were able to create for ourselves and it all comes together beautifully in the thanksgiving traditions. Surrounded by our dearest friends with the eclectic food we enjoy (with some traditional dishes thrown in for fun) our home feels warm and happy on the day,” Chavali says.

Radha Chavali (in green) with her husband Kash Seethamraju and daughters Sumi and Sanjana.

Having lived in this country for over 23 years now, this year too shall be spent with friends – multiple tandoori chickens and paneer tikka masala shall be consumed with the occasional turkeys and ham thrown in for our second-generation kids who have the affinity and love for the “blandest meal on planet earth” as a friend of mine likens to call the traditional Thanksgiving meal of roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, ham, stuffing and rolls. “The occasional pies and casseroles do not make it any better,” she laments.

This year too we’ll be at Rakhi Bhatiya-Arora and her doctor husband Sundeep Arora’s home in Plymouth, Minnesota. The duo loves to host for any occasion and Thanksgiving is one of them. In the past, they would go to a friend’s place but since the pandemic, a lot of Indian families in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, tried their hands at cooking turkey themselves and Aroras were one of them. “Our twin sons Ram and Krish are U.S.-born and they absolutely love the traditional Thanksgiving meal – turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and green beans casserole. So, last year when the pandemic kept us homebound, we cooked the turkey with all its trimmings and the kids loved it,” Rakhi told me.

Ramneek Aneja with husband Prabhjeet, son Arjan and daughter Harsheen.

Ravija Singh, a senior scientist, and project manager at a California biopharma company hosts a Thanksgiving dinner religiously for the last 20 years or so for her friends and family. “It’s always a complete Thanksgiving meal, per my children’s request,” — 15-year-old Sanaa and Stavan, a graduate student in international relations and public policy. Surrounded by my friends and all our kids, it’s the happiest day for me personally as I give thanks to all that life has to offer,” Singh adds.

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Kuhu Singh with son Puru and friend Manpreet with her twins Pranay and Palak.

Thanksgiving allows her to pause and take in all that she and her family are thankful for. “I celebrate every year with great enthusiasm, just like I would a Diwali! I have started a tradition where we go around the table for what we are all grateful for. My 15-year-old daughter has also started a tradition where she will create an original Thanksgiving artwork and I am hopeful she’ll carry it forward in her own life,” Singh says.

To most Indians I talked to, Thanksgiving fits perfectly with their worldview as, unlike July 4th or Christmas, Thanksgiving is neither religious nor associated with any political figure from American history that they can’t identify with. “Thanksgiving is not a holiday celebrated in India, so it is not a favored travel time for the Indian diaspora to visit back home, unlike Christmas or the summer holidays. So, we spend time with family and friends here in the U.S.,” says Vinitha Kartha, a natural resources manager in Phoenix, Arizona. And it gives them a reason to spend time with friends and family and express their gratitude.

Ravija Singh’s annual Thanksgiving spread.

Like, for instance, Jaya Thomas and her family. “Thanksgiving to us is the beginning of the holiday season – we as a family put up our Christmas lights, decorate our house and get it ready for the holidays and our three kids always look forward to the very traditional Thanksgiving meal that gives them a break from the everyday Indian meals and burgers and fries,” Jaya says. Her IT professional husband George Varghese has experimented with Caribbean rub on his turkey as well as roasting Cornish hens instead of the traditional turkey. “Both had been devoured by our kids and our friends who religiously join us on this day and celebrate thanksgiving with us every year,” Jaya says.

Kuhu Singh lives in Eden Prairie, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities. Bidding adieu to journalism a decade ago, she nonetheless loves to write and express her very strong opinions on social media and blogs and sometimes in a few Indian publications. She is a Senior Digital Marketing Manager for a broadcast retail company. Race relations, diversity, and social issues fascinate and roil her into action. She volunteers her time with certain political organizations and community organizations.

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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