My American Thanksgiving was a truly wonderful experience and gave me a glimpse into what the holiday means for Americans and those living in America. I was privileged to have two Thanksgiving feasts with all the traditional foods, turkey, apple pie, green bean casserole, and the works! The first was at my church the week of Thanksgiving where the whole church sat down for a meal cooked by the ladies’ group. The second was a more intimate affair with my pastor and his family in their home.
What I loved about the Thanksgiving holiday:
• Turkey and apple pie are wonderful foods; either I ate food made by really good cooks or I just love food, but I am thinking it’s the cooks. The overindulgence of Thanksgiving is quite enjoyable and the truth is you can’t help but be overstuffed after digging into a lavish Thanksgiving feast!
• The significance of sharing with those without, including people far from homes or their families, is the best part of the holiday. Communities, churches and individuals don’t just make a huge meal and eat on their own, in a way they seek out those with whom they may share with so that the true meaning of the holiday is celebrated. I remember seeing multiple signs at churches for free thanksgiving dinners to all.
The hospitality from my church and the pastor’s family on a holiday that I could have otherwise been left out of made me appreciate the meaning of Thanksgiving. Even at school there were students from far-off states being invited to enjoy Thanksgiving with fellow students who live close by. That was truly touching.
• At my pastor’s house, I loved the fact that after we were stuffed beyond words with delicious food and dessert we played a word game that included everyone, even the smallest child. Of course I discovered just how insanely competitive I was as the “Monica” in me (from the Friends sitcom) emerged, claws and all!
• It’s a unifying American tradition that isn’t just for white Americans or natives or black Americans, but also for immigrants that have made America their home. The holiday gives a unique identity to Americans and their way of life and beliefs that I think they should be extremely proud of.
My Christmas was not quite as American as my Thanksgiving. I spent the day with some Kenyan and Tanzanian friends eating roasted goat, vegetable rice and a sweet treat called mandazi! The sense of community was equally enjoyable to what I had felt on Thanksgiving, as was the roasted goat, but I also wish I could have seen what typical Americans do for Christmas.
The impression I got was that while Thanksgiving is about sharing and inviting friends and acquaintances into your home, Christmas is more of a private family affair. In Zimbabwe Christmas is celebrated with community instead of just the small nuclear family, although in all truth most festivities in Zimbabwe are communal affairs. This cultural difference is probably because the extended family is a big part of African culture.
If you do not have fellow international students or friends, the winter break can be a very lonely time. But having a community of people from your country off campus can make it better. They often know the holidays that will inevitably leave you stranded and will always make sure you are not alone and you get a taste of home and America! I am thankful to my church and my African friends for helping me celebrate these two big American holidays.