Celebrating Thanksgiving

Quick History of Thanksgiving

Prior to my arrival to the United States from Ethiopia, I did not know who or what Thanksgiving was. After a year of my arrival, I learned that Thanksgiving is the epitome of an American holiday. The history of the Thanksgiving tradition in America began almost 400 years ago in 1623 when the Pilgrims, who were the first group that fled England, made their way to America by sailing through the Atlantic Ocean to land on Plymouth, a small town in Massachusetts, where they set up what is known as the Plymouth Colony. The first winter experienced by the Pilgrims was a horrendous one. The crops they attempted to grow had failed because the climate and soil were different than those they worked with in England. As a result, it is taught at school that at least half of the people died due to lack of food and diseases. Fortunately for those who served, they encountered the Iroquois Native Americans, who resided in Plymouth.

The Iroquois taught the Pilgrims how to properly grow crops like corn, barley, beans and pumpkins—all crops that were not familiar to the Pilgrims. However, by November of the following year, after the crops were harvested, the Pilgrims and Iroquois Native Americans feasted together. Governor William Bradford issued a formal proclamation, announcing it as the Thanksgiving Day celebration. The holiday for the Pilgrims was a day to celebrate and be thankful for plentiful harvest. After America gained independence from Britain in 1776, the ruling bodies, in particular the first US president George Washington, declared that a Thanksgiving Day be dedicated every year. This particular day, the fourth Thursday of November (usually November 26 of every year), is now Thanksgiving Day.

How My Family Celebrates Thanksgiving

I have friends who are international students who live too far from home to travel to see their families so on Thanksgiving Day in my house, I usually have 2 or 3 of my international students spend the holiday with my family and I. I also have friends from the US who live too far from home to travel back for the holiday who also stay with me. This is one of the rare days when my immediate family and friends from school come together and eat together. The tasks for Thanksgiving dinner involves my parents preparing a traditional meal consisting of cornbread, turkey, gravy, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce and vegetables while my friends and I help set the table. Once the table is set and the food is ready, we reflect on our year and discuss what we are thankful for in our lives.

I love Thanksgiving not solely for the delicious food my parents prepare, but also because it is fun to explain and teach my international students what the holiday is about. I personally came to the US when I was 8 years old and had to learn everything about American culture at school, including Thanksgiving, so sharing that knowledge with my international friends reminds me of when I was learning about the holiday myself.

Thanksgiving is About….

In present day, people celebrate Thanksgiving differently. For some, it is a day of being thankful for friends and family while for others, it is a time to take a week off and go on vacation. But the most important thing to keep in mind about Thanksgiving is that, although everyone may celebrate it in different ways, the essence of the holiday lies in recognizing and being grateful for our privileges and not taking things for granted.

-Tarikwa Leveille

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