Giving Thanks – with Herring and Mayo

3 for 30-people Thanksgiving. 1 small one for us for the day after. 1 to drop off for my in-laws, and one experimental with smoked salmon instead of herring.

By Olga Shafran

The holidays are a time for traditions.  And in honoring my family’s, I will be making “herring under a fur coat” for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner.  Just like the Pilgrims did at the first Thanksgiving, I will lovingly spread mayo between every layer of hand-grated root vegetables covering the herring.  Because a salad without mayonnaise is just a side dish.  “Herring under a fur coat” is no side dish.  At our Thanksgiving, it’s a bigger deal than the turkey.  My grandmother taught me how to make it.  She was a wonderful cook and this was her specialty.

We will all gather and my grandfather will start us off with his traditional Thanksgiving toast.  The entirety of the toast will be in Russian and will describe how my aunt and uncle came to America, despite everyone’s fears and tears, and how we were all able to follow them a few years later.  The last line will invariably be in English.  “God bless America!” grandpa says each year with a heavy Russian accent and a tear in his eye.

Felix Vallotton. The Dinner, Effect of Lamp (1899)

This is what Thanksgiving is about for me.  Not the Native Americans or the European explorers, not the Norman Rockwell painting of a turkey, but an opportunity to be here, in this country, enjoying freedom.  While liberals and conservatives debate whether it is still politically correct for elementary school children to act out “the first Thanksgiving,” immigrant families gather and thank this country for taking us in.

Perhaps this is what we should all focus on.  In the future, will there be new immigrants sitting around their Thanksgiving table for the first time saying, “God bless America,” in an accent of their native tongue?  Will they be grateful to this country for allowing them to live free of prejudice and fear for tomorrow?  With our country currently in turmoil and division, I hope we retain our ability to value diversity and our desire to take in the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

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