British Columbia

Tabouleh & turkey (make that halal chicken) and sharing Thanksgiving Day

CBC host Gregor Craigie ponders thankfulness as he prepares to host Syrian refugees for Thanksgiving Day — people who have lost homes, businesses and family members. 'Would I be thankful if I were them? Could I be?'

'Would I be thankful if I were them? Could I be?' ponders CBC host Gregor Craigie as he hosts Syrian refugees

Munro suggests seasoning the turkey by adding a layer of herb or thyme butter under the skin. (Getty Images)

There will be two thanksgiving dinners in my house this holiday weekend.

On Sunday night, we're eating with old friends who are visiting from Vancouver, while on Monday night, we're hosting new friends from Syria.

They are among the thousands who came to this country earlier this year as refugees, and now find themselves somewhere in the long task of building new lives for themselves. 

My wife, who has been helping them with everything from doctor's appointments to birthday parties for several months now, was keen to introduce them to this Canadian tradition.

I'm looking forward to welcoming them to our home again, as they've welcomed me and my family several times before.

And yet I'm uneasy about explaining the idea of giving thanks to a family of refugees.

Smoke hangs in the air over the city of Homs, where there has been continuous fighting, airstrikes and artillery shelling during the Syrian war. (CBC)

Make no mistake, they are thankful. They've told us how much they appreciate what Canada has done for them and have expressed gratitude, personally, many times.

But the thought of discussing the idea of being thankful with people who have lost so much humbles me.

They have lost their home and business. Several of their family members have died as a result of the war. And as the devastating conflict continues in their homeland, every day brings more worry about friends and family left behind.

Syrian Arab Red Crescent trucks stand in the besieged neighbourhoods of Homs. February 8, 2014. REUTERS/Thaer Al Khalidiya (Thaer Al Khalidiya/Reuters)

Would I be thankful if I were them? Could I be?

For the most part, I've left the hypothetical question alone to focus on practical ones instead.

Should we serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal or adapt it to suit our guests? And if so, will we be able to buy a halal turkey in Victoria?

I walked from the CBC studio to the nearby Quadra Village Butcher Shop, where Medhat Farag specializes in halal meat.

Yes, he sells halal turkeys. No, he doesn't have any left. They sold out a while ago.

I asked him if more Muslims are celebrating Thanksgiving. He said it's hard to say because a growing number of his customers are not Muslim.

"I don't realize when my customers come, I don't look (if) he is Muslim or not, I'm just serving him the right quality of meat. So Muslim, non-Muslim, for me I don't care. We are all human beings living in one land," he said.

Medhat Farag, Halal Meat & Deli Mart, Victoria, B.C. (Gregor Craigie)

I would have liked to try the halal turkey, but the busy butcher assures me his chicken is delicious, and encourages me to buy it on Saturday for a Monday dinner.

While I was at the butcher, my wife was already planning the menu. Through a series of texts and voice-messages, and with a little help from Google Translate, she had coordinated a shared meal between our two families.

We will provide the halal chicken and other traditional staples.

Please bring date cookies, Arabic coffee

Our guests will make a number of dishes including tabouleh, the traditional Middle Eastern vegetarian dish that blends tomatoes, parsley, mint and bulgur wheat.

And, though it hasn't been said, I am hoping they will also bring some of their excellent date cookies and make for us some Arabic coffee, served with cardamom and lots of sugar.

The more I think of this Thanksgiving dinner, the less it seems like a traditional Thanksgiving dinner — it's quickly becoming something new, a sort of hybrid.

As I imagine sharing a meal with our guests on Monday, it feels appropriate to adapt and do what we can to accommodate them.

But the blending of cultures it not without its tensions. A CBC Angus Reid Institute poll released this week shows two-thirds of Canadians want minorities to do more to fit in — a desire to adopt traditions that most Canadians already share.

And as we prepare to welcome our new neighbours this long weekend, Thanksgiving feels like an appropriate Canadian tradition for that.

I will not tell our new friends what to be thankful for. But I will share with them something that makes me feel thankful; that we live in a country where most of us can still respect each other's differences peacefully.

About the Author

Gregor Craigie


Gregor Craigie is the host of On The Island on CBC Radio One in Victoria. Past journalistic lives include reading the news at the BBC World Service, political reporting on TV, and freelancing in Asia.