Although several students at Oklahoma Christian University have grown up celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday set aside to spend time with loved ones, eat delicious food and reflect on their blessings, only recently did several international students observe this day for the first time.
According to History, The roots of Thanksgiving trace back to 1621 when Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians gathered together to give thanks for a successful harvest. Now, Thanksgiving Day evolved to American families traditionally gathering together for fellowship and a large meal of turkey and a multiplicity of sides.
However, to many international students at Oklahoma Christian, Thanksgiving is a new tradition.
Junior Grace Nduwimana is from Burundi, East Africa. Although Nduwimana never celebrated Thanksgiving with her family growing up, she has always been familiar with the holiday.
“I’ve always known about Thanksgiving because where I grew up there was a large community of experts from all over the world, some of which were Americans and Canadians,” Nduwimana said. “They celebrated Thanksgiving religiously.”
Nduwimana said although she understood certain traditions associated with Thanksgiving, she did not realize its significance until she came to the United States.
“I didn’t think much about it until I came over here, and once I started to get to know the American culture I saw how consumerism is a real thing,” Nduwimana said. “Thanksgiving is a good time for American culture. It’s a good break from the consumerism and the crazy Western world.”
Nduwimana experienced her first Thanksgiving two years ago with her American host family. Each year Nduwimana and her brother accompany their host family to a local country club.
“It was very nice,” Nduwimana said. “We dressed to the nines and it was a five-course meal one year and a buffet the next year. It was also nice to see how everyone knew each other. I don’t see that very much being on campus.”
According to Nduwimana, it is meaningful to have a day set aside to be grateful. However, Nduwimana said this concept of giving thanks should be remembered each day.
“In general I think it’s important to be able to step back and be thankful for what you have regardless of if you have an actual day to do it,” Nduwimana said. “It helps to put things in perspective and set priorities in your life.”
Similar to Nduwimana, junior Laura Twagirayezu said although she did not observe Thanksgiving until she moved from Rwanda to the United States, she was aware of its basic customs.
“I knew about Thanksgiving from movies and TV shows,” Twagirayezu said. “I just wasn’t sure if it was as grand as it is in movies, because that’s how I had it in my mind with a huge dinner, a big, big turkey and just dressing up, having a good time.”
To celebrate each year, Twagirayezu gathers together with her American hosts, the Stupich family, at their home for a traditional meal complete with turkey and pie. Twagirayezu said she enjoys having a day set aside to spend time with family and reflect.
“My first Thanksgiving here my host parents invited me over with my host brother, and it seemed like a holiday to just relax and enjoy food and be with family,” Twagirayezu said. “It’s a nice time to appreciate everything and give thanks.”
Bible professor Mel Latorre also did not grow up observing Thanksgiving. Born and raised in Brazil, Latorre did not experience his first American Thanksgiving until he was 17.
Once his family moved to the United States, Latorre said they took part in observing Thanksgiving Day. Latorre said his mom would cook traditional Thanksgiving food, but she also would include Brazilian traditions as well.
“She would also make a Brazilian dessert to accompany our meal,” Latorre said. “There’s this thing called pavé, a layer of cookies and some different creams and sugar and chocolate, and she would throw the Brazilian flair in there with the turkey and cranberries.”
Latorre now celebrates Thanksgiving Day with his wife and children. Each year Latorre and his family travel to visit his wife’s family and take part in her family’s traditions.
“My in-laws live in eastern Oklahoma, and they have a farm, so every time I think of Thanksgiving here in the States, I also think of farm activities like riding four-wheelers, shooting and having a bonfire,” Latorre said.
According to Latorre, life often gets hectic and it is easy to lose sight of the surrounding life’s blessings Latorre said Thanksgiving Day allows for a slowdown and a reminder of what to be thankful for.
“We often get so overwhelmed and busy with life, and we just focus on so many other things,” Latorre said. “I think it’s always important to stop, think and focus on good things and keep an emphasis on those things. If nothing else it helps you have a more balanced perspective on life.”