GOSHEN — Thanksgiving isn’t about sharing a meal of turkey and stuffing.
Nor is it about eating that turkey and stuffing on great-great-grandma’s dishes.
While time spent with family members is important, loved ones don’t necessarily have to be related by blood or marriage to enjoy the holiday.
Take Jason Samuel and his several dozen Thanksgiving guests, for example.
Samuel, a Goshen College communications professor, his wife, Jenni, and their 17-year-old son Colin, have hosted a group of Goshen College students for a Thanksgiving meal each year for the past decade.
What started out as a sit-down meal with four or five students is now an all-day event filled with food, friendship and of course, football.
There’s not one bit of shared DNA among Samuel’s guests — in fact, most of them were born in different countries and wouldn’t have celebrated Thanksgiving had they not found their way to Goshen College.
Yet put them around a table together and you’d never know they weren’t long lost cousins.
Thursday marked Yohann Varghese’s fourth year in the United States for the Thanksgiving holiday and his third trip to the Samuel’s home for the annual meal.
“It’s a great tradition to have,” said Varghese, who came from Kerala, India, to study accounting at Goshen College. “We spend a lot of time together and all of us know each other pretty well. We fight like family too.”
“That’s how we show love,” his classmate Vasanthkumar Palanisamy, of Chennai, India, said.
Samuel said he has no difficulty getting the students to share a meal, even if they aren’t familiar with the American holiday. The only challenges are how much food to cook and what to provide outside of the traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes.
“When you have a whole global guest list that isn’t familiar with some of the more traditional food you have to get a little creative,” Samuel said. “We make some vegetarian dishes, some pasta, stuff like that too.”
The family covers the cost of the meal each year, although they do receive donations from friends and the community — including Goshen College officials who provide a bus to transport the students from campus to Samuel’s home on 7th Street.
Some years are busier than others, but this year’s food supply worked out perfectly, with plenty of leftovers, Samuel said.
“You know it’s a good year when Jenni and I are sharing the last fork, the last plate and the last cup,” he said. “We have three full sets of dinnerware and we’re using every last piece of it.”
Some families, like the Miller/Faulker family of Millersburg, celebrate together, but not by rotating from one home to the next.
Instead, each year they meet at the Pizza Depot in Millersburg, where owner Jennie Hile transforms the depot into Thanksgiving central.
“We grew up here, so it just kind of makes sense to come back here each year,” explained Kellie Faulkner as she helped her sons Zackary, 3, and Mackson, 16 months, into their chairs for dinner.
Her sister, Virginia Miller, and their mother, Jill Miller, said they are happy that the Pizza Depot hosts the meal each year.
“We know Jennie pretty well, but this is just kind of how Millersburg is,” Virginia Miller said. “It’s nice that they want to give back to the community.”
A plate piled high with turkey and all the fixings is free, but that doesn’t stop visitors from donating several hundred dollars to the restaurant each year, explained Hile’s mother, Priscilla Hile.
“Some people tell us they want the donation to go toward the cost of the meal. Others donate turkeys or pie,” Hile said.
In recent years, the event has raised about $600 that Jennie Hile has passed along to Heifer International, an organization that helps brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to impoverished areas by providing families with animals that provide food and reliable income in the form of milk or eggs, or Faith Mission of Elkhart.
“We’re blessed here, so we like to pass that along,” Priscilla Hile said, before returning to her station along the makeshift Thanksgiving meal assembly line. “It’s just a good thing to do for others.”
Follow Julie on Twitter @jcrothers_tgn