Thanksgiving? Most of the world is unfamiliar with this traditional American holiday. Canada, Liberia, some Caribbean islands, Germany, and Japan also celebrate it during the year. The holiday is pretty much unknown elsewhere.
The accepted meaning of Thanksgiving is generally to express gratitude, gather in unity, teach the young, and prepare the heart. I got to experience these meanings firsthand recently while helping to share this holiday with international students, scholars, and families from all over the world at an International Thanksgiving Celebration in Eugene, Oregon.
Northwest Christian University (NWCU) hosted the event in its Morse Event Center. Lane Community College (LCC) assisted and provided student workers. Local community residents brought side dishes to feed 30 or more. It was truly a bootstrap event made possible by the efforts and determination of a handful of local residents wanting to show visitors far from their home what American hospitality and holiday traditions are like.
My wife prepared a dish to feed 50+ with two kinds of sweet potatoes, Yukon potatoes, pears, red apples, Granny Smith apples, cranberries, cinnamon, honey, brown sugar, and ginger. We showed up early and helped with preparations.
At 5:00 pm, our international guests started to arrive. People young and old entered in anticipation of experiencing a traditional American meal in a spirit of friendship. There were local residents, families who had moved here from other countries, visiting scholars, and undergraduate and graduate students attending NWCU, LCC, and the University of Oregon.
The tables filled quickly with a congregation worthy of a United Nations summit. Almost 300 strangers came together to celebrate a Thanksgiving dinner. Conversations flowed easily. Nationality, religious affiliation, race, sex, and age held no distinction here. Several hundred people gathered in a spirit of harmony and goodwill to enjoy food and friendship together.
People from distinctly different backgrounds and cultures lined up together to receive a bounteous helping of dishes and desserts. My wife helped with serving. My job was to take pictures to share. These pictures are a limited representation of what the event provided those who attended.
After dinner, we worked off the calories consumed by learning how to line dance. The memories created for those who attended will last for many years. My wife and I have hosted international students for many years. We are all more essentially similar than we are different.