Celebrating Thanksgiving under a different flag

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The holiday spirit sometimes seems to transcend national and cultural boundaries. The generous, grateful feeling can be contagious, making it easy to forget that, in most places, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday.

There are many U.S. residents who hail from a different homeland. For them, Thanksgiving can be a new and confusing experience. The Thanksgiving story taught throughout public schools sometimes never reaches the ears of immigrants or children of immigrants, making the celebration of the turkey an odd one without any context.

Thanksgiving could easily be mistaken as a holiday that celebrates American gluttony, where families gather around to eat as much food as they are physically able. There is a cornucopia, but how many Americans know the origins of a cornucopia, what it is used for or why it has to do with Thanksgiving?

Rebecca Schiano, from Brescia, Italy, has never celebrated Thanksgiving before.

“I only know that you eat turkey,” Schiano said. “Also, it’s autumn-themed, there’s the harvest and the Founding Fathers came. Italians see Thanksgiving through TV series. It looks like a very positive image. For us, it’s just a traditional very American holiday.”

Blake Hampson, a business student from Australia, had the Thanksgiving experience early on upon arriving in America.

“I love Thanksgiving in America,” Hampson said. “The first year I was here I was invited into a family home to share the holiday with them. Obviously the food was great, but I think the reason it tasted so good was because I was in such a warm and welcoming atmosphere. After the massive meal I remember sitting down on the lounge, with a good American history book from their shelf, while the family laughed, joked and enjoyed each other’s company for the rest of the night. Honestly, it’s one of the best memories of my life so far.”

Although he had a positive experience, Hampson is continually surprised by the ignorance of some Americans.

“I find it amusing that I get asked every year if we have Thanksgiving in Australia,” Hampson said. “I have to stop myself from saying, ‘Do you even know what this holiday is about?’”

Samanta Ruiz is a psychology student at BYU from a Mexican family. Although she has lived in the U.S. for a long time, her family retains its Mexican heritage.

“Even after 12 years in the U.S. we still don’t celebrate Thanksgiving,” Ruiz said. “I think part of it is because the pilgrims didn’t have an influence on what was happening in Mexico. My parents have lived their entire lives in Mexico. They were born and raised there, so they have stuck to their roots and culture.”

Although Ruiz said she and her family have never made their own turkey, they do enjoy the break from work and school.

“We do focus on being more thankful, but other than that it’s just a day to spend with the family,” she said. “If other families invite us over for dinner, then we go with them. It’s our time to eat what we usually wouldn’t. It might be as simple as pizza, and we watch movies.”

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