Thanksgiving is a very traditional American holiday but coming from a non-American family, we’ve altered Thanksgiving to contextualize it to our culture.
When you walk into the house, there are the voices of laughter and kids running around like the normal “American” family. We have football on TV, and some uncle or aunt is always late and everyone is waiting for them. Then you have that one uncle or aunt who gives a speech, and it’s way too long and everyone is looking impatient.
But the thing that’s a little different is the dinner table.
The food at Hmong Thanksgiving has your traditional turkey, gravy, stuffing (or what we think is stuffing) and some kind of mashed potatoes. Then it gets a little funky, because we have items like laab, a meat dish with herbs like cilantro, mint, culantro, pea pak, Thai chili peppers and tossed with fish sauce and toasted rice crumple.
Then we add some stuffed chicken wings and red curry chicken. Mix that up with some egg rolls and rolled rice crepes with pork. Add to that the sweet meats of braised pork belly and bamboo shoots.
The list goes on and on and then, to top everything off, we have pumpkin pie with whipped cream. This bountiful table of food is my “traditional” Thanksgiving menu.
Thanksgiving is a time when we gather around and eat together. For some families, they set aside their issues and sit at a table together and eat. For other families, they don’t set aside their issues and bring them to the table.
Regardless, traditional American Thanksgivings revolve around food and family. In the Hmong tradition, we don’t have a traditional “Thanksgiving” holiday, but we have what is called nog peb caub, which is translated to “eating of the 30th,” or better known as the “Harvest Feast.”
This Harvest Feast can be dated back to the highlands of Laos, where Hmong villages wanted to gather together to celebrate a year of harvest. The Hmong people are agricultural people, which means they make most of their living by gardening and harvesting.
After a summer of harvest, the village celebrates by throwing a large feast. The message would be sent to other villages, and they would gather together. The hosting village would slaughter a pig, and they would take their harvest crops and create a feast for their guests.
This was the party of the year. Friendships were forged. Business deals and partners were made. This is also where young suitors would try their luck in catching the eye of a young lady. This is where families would see each other again. This is the time where people who had issues with each other would lay them aside for a little while and gather at a feast and eat side by side.
The closest event that we have today in America to this is “Hmong New Year.” It’s not technically celebrated on a “new year,” but it has the same principles. Many people travel in from other cities and towns and gather at a central location (St. Paul) and pack the area out with vendors, food, music and sporting events.
As Thanksgiving is around the corner, I reflect on this last year of the bountiful harvest that God has blessed me with. I reflect on my job on staff at a local church, and I am thankful for all He has provided for me there.
I reflect on my family. Even though we are all over the United States, we still keep in contact with each other. I reflect on the fact that this new year we welcomed new family members into our families. And lastly, I reflect and am so thankful for the grace of God over me everyday.
So take some time and reflect on God’s bountiful harvest that He has provided for you over the last year.
— by Yia Vang
Vang graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a BS in Communication Studies. Shortly after, he went on staff with Cru. He is currently the Lead Kitchen Ministry Coordinator for Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.