By Lauren Herber, Staff Writer
For me, having grown up in the United States, celebrating the traditional American holiday of Thanksgiving means sitting around a table full of family and friends saying what we’re each thankful for; (over)eating turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie; falling asleep on the couch to football; and starting the process of putting up Christmas decorations. Each person or family, however, has its own individual way of celebrating the holiday. Over the years, as our nation advances and becomes more diverse, how people celebrate Thanksgiving has changed, from what types of food are eaten to what types of celebratory activities take place throughout the day. I was curious about what people who didn’t grow up in the US think about Thanksgiving, and how they have or haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving since coming here. Fortunately, Thunderbird is a great place to be to learn about what other cultures think about Thanksgiving. I asked a few of my colleagues here at Thunderbird who come from different countries for their opinions on the holiday.
Most of peers said that while they hadn’t celebrated Thanksgiving before coming to the US, they had a general idea of what the holiday is all about. Peng Gao (China) told me that although he hasn’t celebrated the holiday, he learned about it through the media. Jialu Yu (China) had a similar experience: “In China we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and I didn’t really know about Thanksgiving before. The only thing I heard about was eating turkey and it’s a family day. I also have an impression from the movies of family members holding hands and praying before having dinner.” Jason Qiao (China) said that he also associates family and togetherness with the holiday of Thanksgiving. “Before I came to the US,” he told me, “I thought of it as a holiday that families get together and celebrate reunion.” Peng pointed out to me that while the holiday of Thanksgiving might be unique to the United States, the idea or feeling of thanksgiving isn’t: “It comes to me when I receive something, survive from bad situations or simply feel happy,” he said. Others were in agreement with this sentiment. Jialu told me about a similar holiday that is celebrated in China: Spring Festival. “It’s a time of year that families get together,” she told me.
For those international students that celebrated Thanksgiving this year, spending time with family and friends was a highly positive aspect of their holiday experience. “I don’t have family or host family here in the US but I did celebrate Thanksgiving last week, and I have celebrated before too with other friends’ families,” said Jialu. “From what I know, in the US, family members are not as close as Chinese ones. They don’t see each other very often as they may be in different cities, which makes Thanksgiving more special. I feel really thankful for being invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends’ families. They make me feel warm, accepted, and not alone, especially when almost everyone gets the chance to spend time with their families but I can’t.” Neha Bandekar (India) agreed with Jialu, mentioning how she attended a Thunderbird-hosted “Friends-giving” since she wasn’t able to be with her family. “It was a wonderful experience,” she told me. Leah Funk (United States) and Marissa Burket (United States) also hosted a Friends-giving on campus for students who weren’t able to go home for the holidays. “We wanted to invite as many people as possible to celebrate a half-traditional, half-international Thanksgiving potluck,” said Leah. The event was a success: over 30 students attended. “We wanted an environment where students who either couldn’t get home for Thanksgiving (and wanted traditional foods) or students who hadn’t experienced Thanksgiving to feel comfortable and welcomed,” explained Leah. “I love being able to make people feel included, especially during holidays, when they’re away from home.”
All in all, my peers’ Thanksgiving experiences this year were positive. They enjoyed spending time with friends and family as well as tasting some of Thanksgiving’s traditional foods, like sweet potato casserole, which is Jialu’s favorite Thanksgiving dish. As Peng and Jason told me, no matter where you’re from, Thanksgiving is great opportunity to express thankfulness for family, friends, and life in general.