A multicultural Thanksgiving

With a week until Thanksgiving, it’s time for some families to think about going shopping for staples like turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

However, for Lydia Bhattacharya ’15 and her family, things will be a bit different.

“My family actually isn’t all that big a fan of turkey … because we’re used to [spicy] Indian food,” Bhattacharya said. “We’ll have maybe chicken tikka masala, and we’ll have a lot of rice. Normally, we [also] have fondue.”

Bhattacharya is not alone in breaking from traditional American foods on Thanksgiving. Many PHS students and faculty bring elements of diverse ethnic and religious cultural backgrounds to the holiday.

During the four-day weekend for Thanksgiving break, many will reunite with family and friends to celebrate this traditionally-American holiday. In fact, many students at PHS highlighted family as the single most important facet of Thanksgiving, whether or not they celebrate in a traditional way. Indian or Dutch, Jewish or agnostic, reuniting with family is an idea that resonates with many members of PHS.

“My entire family, usually both my mom and my dad’s side, get[s] together and usually come[s] to my house,” Kate Sohn ’14 said.

Sohn, a Christian, contemplated the role of her religion in the holiday.

“I guess there is [an] emphasis on a lot more giving thanks for our religion,” she said. “We give a blessing for being able to be together [and] for the abundance of food. It’s always such a big spread.”

Mary Ashley Stough ’15, who is Greek Orthodox, believes that religion helps her to be more appreciative of what she has during Thanksgiving.

“Religion ties into it because it makes me more grateful and … it just makes me appreciate what I have more,” she said.

Thanksgiving is historically a Christian holiday, but other religions have adopted the holiday—and adapted it. Special education teacher Renée Szporn said she brings her religion, Judaism, to her family’s celebration of Thanksgiving.

“We have the turkey [and some] sides,” said Szporn. “We do, now and then, throw in a couple of Jewish dishes. I’ll have, maybe, a noodle kugel, which is like a noodle pudding.”

In Szporn’s case, it is actually more important to reunite her family for Thanksgiving than it is for some of the holidays that are more closely linked to her religion.

“There are certain Jewish holidays that if you don’t get together, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but missing Thanksgiving would be a big deal,” she said.

While different religions have taken on Thanksgiving, PHS is also home to many immigrants and first-generation Americans who may have never celebrated or even heard of it. And after time spent living here, some have developed their own Thanksgiving activities.

Chemistry teacher Ruchi Mital, who came to America from India 15 years ago, said that Thanksgiving traditions began because of her children.

“It basically started because the kids wanted to be part of the culture and we thought, ‘Yeah, it’s a neat thing to do, [and] they should understand [it]!’” said Mital.

For some at PHS, family is geographically out of reach. Ingrid Dahle ’15 is an exchange student from Norway, and this will be her first Thanksgiving.

“We’re going to celebrate it at some of my host family’s friends’ house,” Dahle said. “I think it will be pretty interesting to see what you actually do [and] how it is in real life, because it’s often different than what they show in movies … what actually happens and what doesn’t. [I see it as] watching football and eating a lot of food but being thankful.”

Mital added that friends can be just as important during Thanksgiving. “We don’t have any family … because everybody’s in India. So friends become family when you are in a different country,” she said.

Other members of the community feel that family is one of the most important things to the stereotypical Thanksgiving.

“[I think of Thanksgiving as] bringing family, maybe, from around the country who are distant, and they come together,” said Matthijs Dijkgraaf ’16, who is from the Netherlands.

This may not be the perspective of a native, but American students and faculty emphasized the importance of family in their celebrations of Thanksgiving as well.

Even though relatives may be far apart, some families still travel the distance to see each other. Stough said that Thanksgiving is a chance for her relatives in different parts of the country to reunite.

“Now that we moved from Connecticut, we don’t get to see my cousins as much,” Stough said. “Just hanging out and being with the family is fun … We usually go to a church service, and then we come back home and just relax while my parents prepare the meal, and we hang out with our cousins and friends.”

Once reunited, some families follow American Thanksgiving traditions, while others have created their own.

History teacher Mark Shelley said, “Traditionally, I come from the South, and … family is very important to us. Extended family especially. We watch the Macy’s parade with the kids. A lot of times, we go for a family walk together.”

Teachers with children felt that it was important for their kids to understand the significance of Thanksgiving.

“When I was growing up, we had a lot of immigrants in the family, so everybody would always, at Thanksgiving, tell the story of how they came to America … my husband was not born here, and [he] always likes to remind my son how lucky he is that he’s born here,” Szporn said.

Shelley said his Thanksgiving entails “a lot of family time and playing games with the children.”

Such family-oriented traditions, while common, do vary. Sohn said her family has its own unique Thanksgiving activity.

“My family started a tradition … a Thanksgiving little concert, [in which] the younger kids share the music pieces they’ve been working on throughout the year or things they’ve learned,” Sohn said. “I don’t really know why we started it, but it’s nice to listen to the progress everyone’s made throughout the year.”

Mital said that she wants her children to grow up with Thanksgiving traditions.

“I want it to be … a time where family friends can meet together and have a good time, where you enjoy food,” she said.

When she came to America, Mital said she did not eat meat because of her religion, Hinduism, but she wanted to celebrate with her family and knew that a Thanksgiving tradition was to stuff a turkey.

“We said that ‘Ok, let’s do Thanksgiving but we are going to stuff vegetables.’ So we made stuffed tomatoes, stuffed peppers, stuffed potatoes, and we made a lot of things with sweet potatoes, and that’s what Thanksgiving in our family is,” Mital said.

“I think families having their own time and their own traditions is important, whatever they choose to eat or do,” Shelley said. “If families want to do their own thing, I think that’s not only okay, [but] it’s [also] great that they have this tradition that they do together and that we, as a society, protect and value that time for each other.”