Celebrating Thanksgiving With International Students

Thanksgiving is a special holiday in the United States. It’s a time when friends and family gather to share a delicious meal and give thanks for all the good things in their lives. So how do you go about celebrating Thanksgiving with international students who might not be familiar with this American tradition?

They should feel welcome and be invited to join in the feast if they feel comfortable doing so. In this article, we’ll explore the history and traditions of Thanksgiving, as well as some of the controversies surrounding it. We’ll also share tips on how to make your international student feel at home during this festive time. 

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving commemorates the feast celebrated by colonists from Plymouth, England. After a season of drought and disease, a Native American named Squanto, from the Patuxet tribe, taught the colonists cultivation and survival skills. The following November, they held a feast to celebrate their plentiful harvests. The traditions of Thanksgiving (which we’ll discuss below) have evolved over time and mostly occur in the United States.

Turkey Time

One of the most iconic Thanksgiving traditions is, without a doubt, the turkey. Many families across the country gather around the dining table to enjoy a mouthwatering turkey as the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving meal. It’s often roasted to perfection and served with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy. This tradition has deep historical roots, as wild turkeys were plentiful in the early American colonies, making them a readily available source of food.

Family and Friends

Thanksgiving is all about togetherness. Families and friends come together to share a special meal and create lasting memories. Many people travel long distances to be with their loved ones on this holiday. It’s a time for catching up, reminiscing, and appreciating the bonds that hold us together.

Giving Thanks

As the name suggests, giving thanks is at the heart of Thanksgiving. Before the meal, it’s common for people to take a moment to express gratitude for the good things in their lives. This can be done through prayers, sharing what they’re thankful for, or even just reflecting silently.

Pumpkin Pie

For dessert, it’s hard to beat a classic slice of pumpkin pie. This sweet treat has become a Thanksgiving staple, and many people eagerly anticipate indulging in a slice (or two). The warm, spiced filling and flaky crust make it the perfect way to end a Thanksgiving meal.

Watching Parades and Football

Thanksgiving morning is marked by two popular traditions: watching parades and football. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is world-famous for its giant balloons and lively performances. On the other hand, football games have become a Thanksgiving tradition, with families and friends cheering for their favorite teams.

Controversies Surrounding Thanksgiving

While Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday, it’s not without its controversies. Some people argue that the holiday’s history is more complicated than the story of the Pilgrims and Native Americans peacefully coming together. Depending on where your international student is from, they may side with some of these controversies and should be respected in their decision to participate in your Thanksgiving festivities or not.  

Let’s discuss some of the controversies that surround Thanksgiving:

Treatment of Native Americans

Critics argue that the traditional Thanksgiving story glosses over the harsh reality of European settlers’ treatment of Native Americans. The relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe was not always harmonious, and the subsequent colonization of North America led to the displacement and suffering of indigenous people.

Cultural Appropriation

Thanksgiving has also been criticized for cultural appropriation. Some argue that the holiday perpetuates stereotypes and misunderstandings about Native American cultures. Elements of the Thanksgiving celebration, such as headdresses and other Native American symbols, have been used inappropriately and insensitively.

Black Friday

In recent years, the commercialization of Thanksgiving has sparked controversy. Many stores open their doors on Thanksgiving evening for early Black Friday sales, which detracts from the holiday’s focus on family and gratitude. This trend has led to backlash from those who believe that Thanksgiving should be a day of rest and reflection.

Celebrating Thanksgiving with International Students

Before you start the Thanksgiving festivities, take the time to educate your international students about the history of the holiday. Share the story of the Pilgrims, and the Native Americans, and the significance of giving thanks. This will help your student understand the cultural and historical context of the celebration. In this conversation, remember to be objective and think about how they must feel being in a different country celebrating a holiday they may have never been a part of.

1. Include Their Traditions

International students come from diverse backgrounds and may have their own traditions and holidays. Be open to learning about their culture and incorporating some of their customs into your Thanksgiving celebration. This can create a more inclusive and meaningful experience for everyone.

2. Explain the Controversies

It’s important to have open and honest conversations about the controversies surrounding Thanksgiving. This can be a great opportunity to discuss the complexities of history, cultural sensitivity, and the ongoing efforts to promote understanding and reconciliation.

3. Cook Together

Involving them in the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal can be a fun and educational way to bond with your international student. You can even incorporate dishes from their culture into the menu, creating a fusion of flavors that celebrates diversity. Food is a universal language, and sharing recipes from your culture and learning about your student’s favorite dishes can be a delightful way to bond.

4. Attend Local Events

Many communities host Thanksgiving events and parades. Take your international student to one of these events to experience the holiday festivities in a more public setting. It’s a great way for them to witness the sense of unity and gratitude that Thanksgiving embodies.

5. Emphasize Gratitude

Encourage your international student to participate in the tradition of giving thanks. Have everyone at the table share what they are thankful for, and allow your student to express their gratitude. This can be a deeply moving and unifying experience.

6. Be Inclusive

Remember that your international student may not be familiar with all the Thanksgiving customs and traditions. Be patient and inclusive, explaining the significance of each part of the celebration and making them feel welcome.

7. Encourage Questions

Let your international student ask questions about Thanksgiving and American culture. This will foster understanding and create an environment where they feel comfortable exploring and learning about the traditions.

8. Volunteer Together

Another great way to celebrate Thanksgiving is by giving back to the community. Volunteer together at a local food bank or shelter. This is an excellent opportunity to show your international students the spirit of giving and kindness that Thanksgiving represents.

Celebrating Thanksgiving with an international student can be an enriching experience for both you and your guest. By sharing the history and traditions, being mindful of controversies, and embracing cultural diversity, you can create a Thanksgiving celebration that truly embodies the spirit of gratitude and togetherness. This Thanksgiving, open your doors, share your traditions, and make your international student feel like a cherished part of your extended family!

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