A San Francisco Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving in San Francisco is like Thanksgiving no other place in  the world. It always has been different here from the earliest days. During the Gold Rush, New Englanders imported Thanksgiving, and turkey was often unavailable, they turned to jackrabbit, or so frontier legend has it.

Today, San Francisco celebrates in as many different ways as there are ethnic groups in the city.  Our great secular holiday has become a day to honor culinary roots and ethnic traditions, rather than to adhere to specific American ways or try to imitate that first Thanksgiving in New England when history books say colonists sat down with Indians to eat turkey, squash and corn, all New World foods.

These days in San Francisco, Filipinos make pancit, Chinese prepare spring rolls, Italians add pancetta to Brussel sprouts, while vegetarians barbecue fall squashes. When newcomers to San Francisco do cook turkey they often make it in accord with recipes from back home; Mexicans from the Yucatan might serve it in a peanut sauce.

For the last two months I've asked nearly everyone I've met in the city to tell me what they eat for Thanksgiving and almost everyone smiles brightly. Only one person out of dozens said she didn't celebrate Thanksgiving at all and she was a real sourpuss. For those who work in the city's superlative restaurants Thanksgiving is often a day of welcome rest.

What I'll do this Thanksgiving I'm not sure. Where I celebrate I don't know yet either. It might be with friends in Sonoma County, where I live, or with my family members, all of whom live in San Francisco. I know that I'll celebrate. I'm hoping that I won't overeat and that I'll remember the advice of my Buddhist friends who urge me to keep it simple, and to be mindful of what I do choose to put into my body.


With a Perspective, I'm Jonah Raskin.

Jonah Raskin taught communications at Sonoma State University.