By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Thanksgiving Day in the United States is a day synonymous with family gatherings, football, ingesting loads of delicious holiday fixings, and of course, giving thanks for the year’s blessings. But have you ever wondered what that spirit of Thanksgiving means to people from other parts of the world?
This week, the News ventured out into the Goshen community to speak with people whose origins span the entire globe. And while the names and dates of their traditional celebrations may differ widely from our own, for many, the need to celebrate and give thanks for one’s blessings is the same in any language.
Take, for example, Thushanti Kamalakanth, a native of Sri Lanka currently working as a lawyer in Goshen.
In her native Sri Lanka, Kamalakanth pointed to the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year as the holiday most closely connected with our Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States.
“We call it the Sinhala and Tamil New Year because we have mostly two predominant groups in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese and the Tamals,” Kamalakanth said. “In Sri Lanka, we believe that the New Year starts in April, so the day falls somewhere between April 12 and 14. It is very similar I believe in the sense where, it’s not really like giving thanks for the harvest as such, but kind of celebrating the harvest.”
During the Sri Lankan New Year, one of the most common traditions is to gather freshly harvested rice grains — a staple of the Sri Lankan diet — and cook what is known as milk rice, or rice soaked in coconut milk.
“Once you begin cooking, you are then supposed to let the pot overflow, and the idea is to represent being bountiful,” Kamalakanth said. “It’s also similar in that this is the time when everybody gets together in the family. So you will have these really distant, distant relatives that you are obligated to go and visit. You may not see them the whole year, but if you don’t go to a relative’s house during the New Year, then it’s seen as if you have more or less written them off. Then the really close family will get together in one person’s house, and there is this big deal about new clothes, where everybody will wear brand new clothes, and everybody is given gifts.”
Having lived in the United States for the past five years, Kamalakanth said she has done her best to adopt as many of the traditional United States holidays as possible, Thanksgiving being no exception.
“Well, I’m a party girl. I like any chance to have fun,” Kamalakanth said with a laugh. “But really, people here have been extremely welcoming. That’s one of the reasons I like Goshen so much. So every time Thanksgiving comes around, my husband and I get about three or four invitations, so we actually end up having to choose where to go. So yes, we definitely get together on Thanksgiving.”
Over at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Turkish foreign exchange student Sunce Selcuk noted that while Turkey does not have a comparative Thanksgiving holiday of its own, the country does recognize several holidays with similar themes and activities.
“We don’t have Thanksgiving, but we have some religious holidays that are similar to it where we come together with our families and eat dinner and celebrate together,” Selcuk said. “But I’ve never experienced an actual Thanksgiving Day before. When the holidays come in Turkey, we don’t go to school, we don’t go to work, we just come together to celebrate or to go on holiday, to summer places, things like that. So it’s a lot of fun.”
Having only been in the United States for the past three months, Selcuk said she is excited about spending her first Thanksgiving holiday with her host family.
“I think it’s going to be really fun, because this will be my first experience with the holiday, and my host family is planning to take me shopping for Black Friday, which I’d never even heard about before,” Selcuk said. “So I’m really looking forward to that. And other than that, we’ll just be coming together with the family, which is great, because it’s exactly like in my own country when we come together with my family to celebrate. So it’s definitely similar in that way, but otherwise it’s going to be a totally different experience.”
Checking in at Bethany Christian High School in Goshen, senior Ming Woo of South Korea said her home country does in fact have a harvest-centered holiday similar to Thanksgiving, though it takes place slightly earlier in the year than its United States counterpart.
“We don’t call it Thanksgiving, but we have a similar tradition,” Woo said. “We follow the lunar calendar for this holiday, so we have it in late September or early October. It’s very, very similar to Thanksgiving, where all the families get together, eat meals together, and spend three or four days together. So it’s just a big feast and family gathering. Over time it has kind of lost its original meaning, but it kind of originated as a celebration of the harvest season.”
Having been in the United States for the past seven years, Woo said she has definitely had plenty of opportunities to experience the Thanksgiving holiday, and always looks forward to spending time with local friends and family.
“I really enjoy the food, and the games we play, and all the family members that come,” Woo said. “So it’s pretty cool.”
This year’s Thanksgiving holiday will be a first for Bethany Christian foreign exchange student Noelle Baumgartner, who says the idea of Thanksgiving is not something that is celebrated traditionally in her home country of Germany.
“You know, we actually don’t really have a similar holiday in Germany,” Baumgartner said. “The closest would probably be Christmas. That’s a big one for us. And then right before Christmas we have Saint Nicholas Day, which is kind of like a pre-Christmas holiday. With Christmas, that’s when everybody really gets together to eat meals and celebrate, but that’s about as close as we get.”
So what’s she looking forward to most with her first Thanksgiving holiday?
“Probably the food,” Baumgartner said with a laugh. “I’m really looking forward to it.”