Do any of your families have Thanksgiving traditions? These can include cooking turkey and mashed potatoes, watching the Macy’s Day parade on TV, running a turkey trot or watching an NFL football game. Especially in Michigan, it is an honored tradition to watch the Detroit Lions lose basically every Thanksgiving. However, in America, we don’t stop to think that Thanksgiving is virtually an American-only holiday. The United States is almost the only country to observe this particular holiday falling on the fourth Thursday of November. Thus, most international students or families don’t understand the holiday or know how to celebrate it, which brings me to my family’s tradition: inviting different, random strangers to Thanksgiving dinner each year.
For as long as I can remember, my Thanksgiving dinner included my parents, siblings, siblings’ significant others, my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles—all the usual family members. But in addition to these relatives, there were always strangers around the dinner table. These may be international students from the local university (Northwood University) or a family new to town. Ironically, my Thanksgiving has included less of my own family—I have four older siblings—and more visitors. Just this past Thanksgiving we had two international students from India and Montreal/Morocco over for dinner. My parents decided that since they are empty-nesters, they would become a host family for Northwood University’s international student program. Both these Northwood students have never celebrated Thanksgiving and only ate halal chicken. Nevertheless, their company was enjoyable, and they were able to try new American food like homemade apple and pumpkin pie.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I realized how thankful I am to have had these opportunities to share one of my favorite holidays with those who are foreign to it. I greatly appreciate that my parents are so open to having strangers share a meal with them on a holiday usually surrounded by just loved ones. There is something so Christian-like and loving to witness in this unselfish act. As a practicing Catholic, I am so grateful that this was another foundational lesson that was implicitly taught to me.
My family’s Thanksgiving tradition has been passed down to my siblings as well. Every year it seems that one of my siblings—now that they are all adulting on their own—is cooking Thanksgiving dinner for friends and strangers. For instance, my sister had a bunch of lab members from graduate school over for Thanksgiving even though she barely knew them. My parents were able to teach us an important lesson of being welcoming and selfless without them meaning to.
Just this small tradition has impacted my own life immeasurably. If you know me, one word that can always describe me is outgoing. This trait has developed partially due to this Thanksgiving tradition.
So when this very turkey-filled day comes around next November, reach out to someone that you may or may not know well and invite them to dinner. Be the person to make the first move and invite someone into your home. Even if you are just doing Friendsgiving, don’t just invite friends, invite acquaintances too. It’s never too late to put a friendly face on and step out of your comfort zone.