I don't think I realized that most "traditional" Thanksgiving meals didn't typically include pork or chicken until I was well into elementary school. At home, we've always paired our turkey with a pernil, empanadas have always been a staple, and if my family was feeling very ambitious, we'd be folding up ayacas (or tamales) as we watched the Thanksgiving Day parade.
Thanksgiving in a Latin family, especially if you're first generation born in the US, doesn't look like your typical cookie-cutter, TV version of the holiday. And that's what I love: Thanksgiving can mean so many different things to so many different people — it's about feeling blessed, right? No matter how many traditions you mix and make up to make one of the most American holidays your own. Here are just a few ways Thanksgiving in my Latino household looks different:
1. The mashed potatoes might be next to empanadas.
Whether it's pernil or empanadas, you think Latinos are having a big holiday meal without adding a little flavor of their own? No way! No matter where in Latin America your family is from, there's at least a dish or a drink spicing up your Thanksgiving table.
2. Dessert is way more decadent.
Pie will always come second to flan and tres leches. It's the honest and sugary truth.
3. Music trumps (American) football.
If the football game — football, not futbol — is even on after the parade, it's on mute because bachata and salsa are blasting through the speakers as all the cooking happens.
4. There's no Thanksgiving without dancing.
Before, during, and after the food has been consumed, we're all up on our feet dancing to whatever is on — the sound of Marc Anthony and Aventura, old-school salsa, or even some J Lo. We can't help it. It's honestly the most fun part of having everyone together (and we like to think we're burning the calories we're eating).
5. Dinner is not a sit-down experience.
There are no tables that could fit the 30-plus people who will be descending upon your home — and there's no way everyone would be on time to eat together. Thanksgiving is a family affair, and no one takes that more seriously than Latinos. There will be tíos and tías, cousins (first, second, and third), nephews, nieces, and grandparents, and none of them will probably grab a plate of food until at least 8 p.m. Buffet style is key to a happy Latino family
6. The old photo albums will come out.
Is there ever a get-together when they don't? A tía will want to take a walk down memory lane. Stories about your abuelos' young years will probably take center stage.
7. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to plan Black Friday.
We're all together and we're all going shopping, so how are we doing this? Who is going where? Who is running for what? Who is driving the kids? You might stay up all night strategizing the best gift-buying plan like a game of Risk.
8. It's the beginning of Christmas.
Your mom might make you go get a tree while she finishes up the food — or make you pull out the artificial one. And there's no way you're getting away with not setting up the nacimiento.