Thanksgiving Day commemorates the expression of gratitude and appreciation. For families with roots outside of the United States, adoption of this American holiday blends with cultural backgrounds and allows for a unique celebration.
Some sisters currently living aboard have decided to bring the traditions of Thanksgiving with them, though they have moved to countries that do not normally observe the holiday.
Jean “Sistine” An currently works as a representative and translator for the international affairs team at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education in Shindorim, Seoul, South Korea. With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, she still has plans to celebrate. “I would love to get together with sisters in Korea and celebrate [Thanksgiving] together on that day. Just like how sorority has provided a ‘home away from home’ for us [sisters], I think it’s important to support each sister who left their home to come to Korea. It will remind us of where we came from and how thankful we are to have wonderful people around us.”
Growing up, An’s family would celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with a big dinner. “[Thanksgiving was] not much of an American style though, so no turkey, but lots of Korean barbeque and other meat,” An explained.
Though her family did not have the traditional Thanksgiving staples such as turkey during their meals, she was always able to get a taste during the annual Thanksgiving dinner potluck hosted by sisters at the University of Georgia Alpha Chapter and brothers from UGA Lambda Phi Epsilon, Asian-interest fraternity.
The Thanksgiving holiday reminds An of family, and this year, her expression of gratitude is focused on her parents. “My parents gave up everything in Korea to immigrate to US when I was nine years old. They saw that I could get a better opportunity in [the] US. Through their sacrifice, I was able to explore many things [like] traveling, learning different sports, playing violin & piano and even finishing college. Now that I am working in the real world, I realize how great it is to be educated I cannot thank my parents enough for giving me this wonderful opportunity.”
The idea of “family” resonated with sister Hannah “Enigma” Kamau, who is an elementary school English teacher also located in Seoul.
Usual Thanksgiving traditions in the Kamau home were a blend of different cultures. “My family was kind of different from other American families. My mom would always cook something cultural, so we would always have Vietnamese food or Kenyan food… we would always have turkey, and we would always go around the table and talk about what we were grateful for,” Kamau said.
While in Korea, Kamau also had the opportunity to celebrate Chuseok, a harvest holiday which has some similarities to Thanksgiving.
“I went to a festival at City Hall [and] was able to learn about Korean traditional music and games,” Kamau said. “What stood out to me the most was the whole idea of family. Family is central to the Chuseok holiday.”
Kamau explained, “The holiday is officially only one day, but everyone gets three days off. All families travel back to the city where their family is from and spend time with the family to prepare a wonderful feast for the day. But the traditional way of celebrating Chuseok pays homage not only to the living family present, but to the past family who have made them who they are today.”
Kamau introduced the American Thanksgiving holiday to her 4th, 5th and 6th grade classes and plans to have Thanksgiving themed activities and games. In addition to the Thanksgiving activities with her class, Kamau plans to celebrate the holiday with friends. “I heard that at the army base, they sell turkeys! So I’m thinking that we will buy a turkey and celebrate… I think we will have a potluck, and probably a cultural lesson for my non-American friends. I actually hang out with a very diverse group of people, including people from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Japan, America, as well as many Koreans. I never imagined I would meet such a diverse group of people!”
Photo credit: Hannah “Enigma” Kamau