I didn’t grow up celebrating Thanksgiving in China, of course. I’d learned about it at school as one of the historical events written in the textbook. But it didn’t mean much to me until I was invited to my first thanksgiving dinner at my American friends’ home.

I was in my early 20s, fresh out of college, an introvert small-town girl feeling awkward meeting new people yet secretly trying hard to make sense of life and the meaning of her being.

That day at my friends’ apartment, mingling with people from different cultures and speaking English most of the time, I quietly observed and absorbed in the novelty. The homemade dinner was in buffet style. On a square wooden table, there were many kinds of delicious-looking dishes that I couldn’t say the names. Then, with a joyful cheering, came a big plate of roasted turkey. I overheard people discussing how much effort the hostess had to make to get the turkey right, for the Chinese oven was much smaller than the western one. And through my first taste of the turkey meat, I learned it’s a must-have for the Thanksgiving celebration.

When it’s time to start dinner, we’d each found a comfortable spot in the living room, on the couch, armchair, or just on the carpet, each holding a plate filled with food of choice and a cup with drinks. The host prayed a prayer of giving thanks to God, then asked us to each share three things we were the most thankful for that year.

Many years passed by, I don’t remember what I shared nor what others shared that evening. But I remembered the enjoyment of good food, the soft candlelight, the laughter, the warmth of people, and the kindness and sincerity in conversations — something in the air I’d never experienced, stuck with me.

This year’s Thanksgiving, while my American friends were sitting around the cozy family table enjoying a juicy turkey again, the dazzling stores with big “Black Friday Sales” signs in Geneva standing on a wet winter day looked forward to the coming Christmas. Though we well adopted the idea of Black Friday, we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day here in Switzerland. My husband and I, strolling down Rive, the famous commercial street in the city with our baby girl, found some presents for friends and Christmas decors for our home. We went back to our apartment, my mother-in-law had almost gotten the dinner ready, and father-in-law was playing with our son. For dinner, as usual, we had three delicious homemade Chinese dishes, hot soup, and rice. After dinner, we cleaned the apartment, put out the decors, and hang the twinkling lights on our living room window frame.

Later that night, after finally put down our toddler son and almost one-month-old daughter to sleep, I sit in the living room with the soft sparkling lights on, thinking of the first Thanksgiving dinner I attended. I recognized the same feeling I had then, the gratitude for the goodness in life from the goodness of God.

We have a lot going on in this season in our family. Sometimes it feels very hard. But being thankful is a daily choice. For regardless of the challenges or the lacking, there’s always goodness in life worth giving thanks, no matter it’s at a fancy Thanksgiving dinner or on an ordinary rainy day.

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