Since coming to America over 30 years ago, I have enthusiastically embraced the American holidays as much as I have my new home. An extremely nice American family whom I met my first year in California “adopted” me, and I have since been invited to every major holiday or event hosted at their home.
By Wafic Khalil
This year I got an Evite to an Arabic Thanksgiving dinner via email. It has been 25 years since I have been to one. I felt guilty for abandoning my American family’s Thanksgiving dinner for another that is, I have to confess, a guilty pleasure of mine; I am greatly looking forward to attending.
What, you might ask, takes place at a typical Arabic Thanksgiving dinner? Allow me to list ten of my favorite things. This is what I want and will expect at this dinner:
1- The political discussions that take place before dinner
These are always polite discussions by very gentle and good-natured people. I’m always reminded and inspired by Arabic civility and geniality!
2- The music
Guys and girls (especially guys) belly dance to a series of loud songs that seem to the untrained ear to be one long, never-ending song spanning an hour.
3- The American-born aunt whose cooking everyone dislikes
Aunt Betty loves to cook and always brings with her a dish for everyone to sample. Her Arabic cooking is awful.
Usually one or two cousins will end up leaving the party with an upset stomach, only to invite her again to one of their events the next time around.
The traditional alcoholic beverage of Lebanon, Arak has been adopted by the rest of the Arabic countries and will flow freely. It is a highly alcoholic spirit packing 50 to 53 percent alcohol and sometimes more if it is brought “homemade” from the old country.
Usually the kids ask to get their first small taste of it, are revolted, feign vomiting, and happily resume drinking soft drinks.
5- The husband and wife that hate each other
While this phenomenon exists in every family, I believe theirs is a unique Arabic version. Although they hate each other, they will feign affection, constant jab at each other and smile all the while making the situation more awkward.
Bring out more Arak!
6- The newly converted vegetarian
Usually a newly westernized cousin cannot help but comment on the dajaj, a plump chicken which is the Arabic version of a turkey, and Kibbeh (raw meat), and how wrong it is to eat a fellow creature.
Aunt Betty rolls her eyes!
7- The kid that everyone dreads
You know this kid. He’s the spoiled child that no one can control. He fights and bullies other kids and spills juice on the new furniture and carpet.
His parents occasionally reprimand him by saying, “Bas baba (Daddy, stop it)!” When things escalate, they look at him and yell, “Baba, I said BAS!”
No chance he will.
8- The cousin that had plastic surgery
Remember that cousin that looked like Pinocchio? Yup, the Middle Eastern nose is gone, and it’s replaced by a little buttoned one.
She is the main attraction of the evening with male cousins vying to talk to her while the female ones are gossiping about her newly maxed out credit card debt.
9- The political discussions that take place during dinner
These are not to be missed. Emotions are flaring and eyes are bulging. People who are otherwise calm and nice transform into emotionally disturbed human beings.
Aunt Betty hides the Arak.
10- The sweets and political discussions after dinner
The table is quickly cleared and desserts brought in, mainly Baklava and other delectable sweets. Deserts are prominently displayed on the table, along with a bowl of exotic fruits.
This is the best time to have sweets, and lots of them, may I add! By now, most attendees have moved their political discussions to the latest war of the region and its aftermath while reminiscing about the good old days. There is plenty of time to go for a second helping.
I was the first to reply to the Evite. A wild Middle Eastern show and dinner will contrast with all the benign Thanksgiving nights I have spent during the past 25 years. I also enjoy my American family’s Thanksgivings, but they have to carve the turkey without me this year.
This article has been updated from its original publication, Nov. 24, 2014.
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