Educator’s Corner

Thanksgiving traditions; the untraditional kind

Soraya Bilbao

Soraya Bilbao

Soraya Bilbao, Guest Writer

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Editor’s note: Educator’s Corner is column space for DHS teachers, counselors, administrators and staff to submit pieces for publication. Just email [email protected] and make your pitch! This column is by ESL teacher Soraya Bilbao.


It wasn’t until a few years ago that for the first time in my life I had homemade cranberry sauce. Its sweet flavor, delicately balanced with a tangy tartness that made you want to pucker your lips, only slightly, was a welcomed addition to my turkey-laded palate. Oh, little red round fruit of goodness, where have you been all my life?

This of course is a rhetorical question. I know exactly where cranberries have been, or better yet, where they haven’t. My family is from Ecuador and although my family embraces Thanksgiving the way our waistbands embrace our waistlines for a good several days after our annual turkey meal, simply put, cranberries are pretty much non-existent in Ecuadorian cuisine. So much so that it wasn’t until recently that I learned that the Spanish word for cranberry is arándano.

This glaring omission of what is considered by many in the United States a staple in traditional Thanksgiving dinners, brought to light the fact that although I grew up celebrating this tasty holiday, my experience of it was somewhat different from the norm.

For starters, Ecuador does not celebrate Thanksgiving. This may have something to do with the fact that the United States got the pilgrims and Ecuador got the conquistadors. However, Grandma loved to cook. Therefore, if someone somewhere at some point decided to make a day of cooking a national holiday, then who was she to go against the grain? By golly, she would take that grain and boil it down with a dash of salt, some cooking oil, one or two scallion stalks, and a pinch of garlic powder for good measure.

Similarities to traditional Thanksgiving dinners started and ended with the turkey. From there, Grandma’s menu creations took a definite turn to the Latin side of things.

First and foremost came a healthy helping of rice. Growing up in a Hispanic household, rice was served at dinnertime 365 days of the year. It was what made dinner, dinner. Heck, it might have even been dinner itself! Meats? Poultry? Fish? Bah! These were only garnishes to the oh-so-bountiful rice.

Next came Grandma’s signature dish; beef empanadas. This dish consisted of ground beef cooked in a mixture of yumminess, which was tucked gently inside a light and flaky dough. Some people oven-bake these little pockets of love, but Grandma deep-fried them to perfection. Are unclogged arteries really that necessary?

Two other dishes that always made their way into Grandma’s Thanksgiving menu included fried, sweet plantains (maduros in Spanish) and aji, a type of salsa that can be made to varying degrees of spiciness. Grandma always made two batches of aji, a really hot one for those adventurous souls in the family who liked to live life on the edge and a milder one for those who just simply wanted to live.

Grandma made other dishes as well, but these were the ones that we could count on enjoying at Thanksgiving. However, before anyone was allowed to sit down at the table, there was one other thing that we could always count on; Grandma’s mandatory picture of the turkey on the Thanksgiving table. No people required for the shot, just the turkey surrounded by all the dishes that she had prepared for her family with so much love.

It has been more than 15 years since my grandmother passed away and I still think about her often. A few summers ago, I was going through old family photos and I came across one of her famous “Turkey on the Thanksgiving Table” photos. I have no idea as to what year the picture was taken, but that doesn’t matter. Looking at the table setting and seeing everything that Grandma had prepared for us that year brought back many memories of her and of our time together as a family. I smiled, wiped away a tear, and was truly grateful.