I remember planning for Thanksgiving during the first few weeks of university. It was the first college holiday I was really looking forward to. The only thing dragging me through midterms and harrowing assignments was the thought of experiencing fall in New York City. Once travel plans were finalized, all that was left was planning for the trip. I dreamed of roaming Fifth Avenue with my high school friends, taking walks in Central Park with my relatives and dining at amazing restaurants. Despite knowing little about the significance of the holiday, I could not wait for Thanksgiving. Some people called it a neo-colonial holiday, while others looked forward to the traditional Thanksgiving feast with the quintessential Thanksgiving roast turkey. All I could care about was a week of absolute fun and shopping.
While in New York, I planned on soaking in the city rather than partying. I went for walks on the High Line and Madison Avenue. I explored the Metropolitan Museum of Art and parts of Manhattan with some of my closest friends. On Thanksgiving day, I got to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marching through the streets. Looking at the people dressed in vibrant clothes, carrying massive, colorful inflatables and being part of such a big, carnival-like celebration was a completely new experience for me. As I pointed out Toothless the dragon, Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, and SpongeBob SquarePants to my friends, cartoon characters from my childhood came to life. I could not have asked for a better Thanksgiving. The next day, I also managed to watch my first broadway show, “The Phantom of the Opera,” with one of my closest friends.
The day after Thanksgiving was Black Friday — the one aspect of the holiday that was not completely alien to me. Diwali is an Indian festival when shops, markets and online retailers brace themselves for the amount of shopping done in the few weeks leading up to Diwali by a country of more than a billion people. So a season in the year when millions of people go crazy, unleash their consumerist demons and spend cash like they won’t find another day to do so was not novel to me. In New York, however, I found many of my high school friends hailing from really wealthy backgrounds spending indiscriminately in Gucci, Versace and Burberry stores. One of my friends spent $700 on a Gucci scarf. A scarf! Another spent $300 on Valentino slippers. Slippers! Personally, I consider myself a pretty price-conscious person, and although I had kept in touch with many of my high school friends, I found it tough to relate to them when it came to shopping. I had partaken in the Black Friday sales myself by buying a few T-shirts and two pairs of jeans from H&M and Century 21 — that’s all.
Black Friday is a huge boost to the U.S. retail economy, but I am already spending so much money on college tuition. So, I’d rather boost India’s economy than spend my Indian money in the United States. Yet, Black Friday and the glittery prospect of shopping in world-renowned brands’ stores brought many of us together in New York. And despite the reservations I had against it, I just felt thankful to be there with all my old friends.
It was then that I understood something deeper in Thanksgiving. It may be just an elaborate marketing plan for siphoning money away from millions of impulsive consumers; it may be a tradition smacking of quasi-colonialism. But unlike other holidays when people simply relax or have fun, Thanksgiving is one of those festivals that brings people together. It also truly encourages us to reflect on our lives and what we are grateful for.
I remember one day, standing in the middle of Times Square with some of my friends, closing my eyes for a brief moment and appreciating everything that had gotten me to this point — my friends, my parents, my teachers and mentors. None of us had thought in high school that at some point, all of us would come together from different universities and meet in the avenues of New York City, so far away from home. All our hard work in high school had helped us reach our goals and had led up to this point. This shared moment was a drop in an ocean of memories to be created.
Back in California, with the smoky air cleared up by rains, the first semester comes to a close. I feel grateful to have found friends I can call family, a place I love to be in and where I learn new things every day, and a community of people who help me nurture and develop my passions at the Daily Cal. In my first semester at UC Berkeley, the Daily Cal has helped me practice my love of writing regularly, instilling a discipline in me that I feel is necessary to improve my skill. So in the spirit of the season, I not only thank my friends, family, teachers and mentors, but I also deeply thank everyone at the Daily Cal for giving me a conduit to express myself to thousands of people.
Abhishek Roy writes the Friday blog on the financial and economic aspects of being an international student. Contact him at [email protected] .