When I was 12 or 13, a friend’s mother invited me to join their family for a Thanksgiving road trip. After I persuaded my parents to let me go, we piled into the family minivan and hit the road. We stayed at a Howard Johnson, shelled pecans and ate all the traditional holiday foods my family never had.
It was the kind of holiday I had always wanted, and one I could never have had at home. It was the first time I skipped a holiday at home, but it wasn’t the last. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For years, Christmas was a forbidden word around our house. As a Hindu, my father didn’t think we should have a tree or acknowledge the holiday. I learned the truth about Santa Claus when we picked up a Christmas tree on sale at Woolworths around closing time on Christmas Eve, decorating into the wee hours of Christmas morning, when Santa was supposed to be making his rounds.
Similarly, Thanksgiving was an American holiday, one my father didn’t believe we as Indian Americans should celebrate. As a kid making cornucopias and construction-paper turkeys at school, however, all I wanted was turkey, pecan pie and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The closest I ever got to the kind of holiday meals other kids talked about was at a family friend’s house. It was usually a crowd of lawyers, former Texas prosecutors and the occasional medical examiner, a mix that made for interesting conversation. There was turkey for everyone else, and vegetarian lasagna for us.
During college, I regularly skipped holidays at home, opting to spend time with friends and their families instead. Not going home meant I could remove myself from the drama that met me whenever I walked through the front door.
In college, it was my weight that was an issue. Going home would mean hearing about how I was so fat that I was unlovable and destined to spend life alone. Down the line, skipping the holidays meant I wouldn’t have to hear about how I was quickly approaching my expiration date of 40 — a time beyond which I would have no value to the world. This conversation began when I was 21.
Not going home for the holidays meant I didn’t have to hear about how I was wasting my life or about the awful traditional men my dad was trying to meet online on my behalf. One of those men told me in our families’ native tongue that he wanted a wife to go to his village in India and care for his aging parents while he stayed in the United States. Nope.
Over the years, I skipped trips home to collect holiday pay at work and scheduled vacations over them to make the most of my limited paid time off. Two weeks doesn’t go very far when you’re an avid traveler with a penchant for far-flung destinations or an Indian American who has to travel at least 24 hours each way to visit relatives in India.
A couple of times, I opted to watch the Macy’s parade in person in New York. A cousin and I feasted on Indian food in Brooklyn after the parade one Thanksgiving.
I spent another Thanksgiving in Porto, Portugal, with a new friend made a few days earlier in Lisbon. We spent the day sampling Port wine and wandering charming European streets. We shared a delicious multicourse meal with wine, champagne and Port for less than $100.
It was exactly the Thanksgiving I needed that year, and a gift I’m grateful to have given myself.