Family, friends and tons of food

International students enjoy first American Thanksgiving

International students Camille Jackson and Petra Veljkovic attended their first American Thanksgiving in New Jersey over break.

Contrary to the questioning of a surprising number of Americans, the Thanksgiving tradition is isolated to North America. 

Its purpose has seemed to morph over decades; to some the holiday being a meager door stop between Halloween and Christmas.  

The trek from Vermont to Connecticut, from Connecticut to New York, from New York to New Jersey, and back again was punctuated by a meal so substantive it lingered days later. The American Thanksgiving tradition is rather simple; a celebration of food, family, friends and life manifested in the elegant turkey.  

Being invited to celebrate the holiday with a quintessential American family was an opportunity to authentically peak inside the window of Americanism and away from the stereotypes of Hollywood. The suburban New Jersey townhouse 10 minutes from Times Square overlooked an unimpeded view of the New York City skyline.  

With the innocent intention of spectating the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, my best mate, Petra Veljkovic, and I sat in a curiously empty section of Bryant Park for half an hour during the mid-morning. Indeed, the expectation of standing like packed sardines and evading deafening Thanksgiving cheers must have been a Hollywood myth! 

However, Hollywood persisted after asking a nearby police officer when the parade will begin, to be told it ended 45 minutes prior.  

Walking the streets of NYC never fails to entertain. On a corner in Times Square, Petra and I stood paralyzed as a crazed women dressed as Santa pointed, screamed, fell to the ground, accused, and yelled at interviewers preaching Christianity. Just another day in NYC, we supposed. Our eyes were fixated on the situation, protected by the cover of a pretzel food stand.  

As the morning dragged on, we made our way to Port Authority, aiming to catch the bus to neighboring New Jersey. Bells, whistles, car horns, and voices occupied our ears. As we waited for the pedestrian light to turn green, a familiar Santa-dressed women wandered by, conversing with a red-shirted man holding Christian pamphlets. 

Just another day in NYC, we reminded ourselves.  

A short bus ride later, we stepped off into New Jersey.  

New York City stood stoically and silently from the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. The dominance of the New York City skyline finally had some context. 

It was jaw-dropping.  

Passing a small Tiger Mart, we made our way to the house of a friend I had the pleasure of meeting during a summer internship. Amelia had an infectious energy and contagiously positive attitude; a personality that perfectly matched the overtones of Thanksgiving. 

Her family and friends were characters from a Holiday movie, each full of tales, life, and personality whose stories occupied our ears the duration of the evening. 

As international students, Petra and I were largely oblivious to the traditions of the holiday, and after intensely questioning Amelia for answers, we were none the wiser. Three trays of cheeses, fruits, jams, crackers, and olives left our stomachs with little surplus room; though the accompanying sangria seemed to create more space.  

We transferred from the cozy living room and appetizers to the exquisitely decorated dining table lined with fine China framed by wine glasses. A white cloth ran down the center of the table, holding an arrangement of flowers dangerously close to taper candles. Petra and I were seated toward the middle of the table, a position of great influence in the conversational flow of the evening.  

 When the last slurp of soup was swallowed, Amelia’s family et al made their way to the buffet-style main course. Turkey, mashed potatoes, grilled pumpkin topped with sugar, yams cooked with marshmallows, a mushroom gravy, and wild rice formed our impression of a Thanksgiving meal.  

The Thanksgiving tradition was made transparent with the arrangement of foods, laughter, family, full stomachs and intensely interesting conversations.  

A walk along the Hudson River gazing at the city helped our stomachs digest before returning for dessert. As our group of ‘kids’ (the title given to the children of the household long into their 20’s) slowly made our way back to the townhouse, the group split. Led by Amelia, Petra and I found ourselves in the small Tiger Mart.  

Do you have any dietary restrictions? Amelia asked the gentleman manning the front counter. They had known each other as neighbors did, and Amelia did not hesitate to offer a hearty meal to her companion working the Thanksgiving shift. We returned 15 minutes later with two plates; one topped with Thanksgiving foods, the other a selection of desserts.  

The sight of pecan pie, pumpkin pie, raspberry pie, and Vermont fudge (Petra’s and my contribution) opened a new chamber of our stomachs fit for the densely sweet treats we planned on indulging in.  

Trekking four states over two days for one meal was a cultural adventure. The American Thanksgiving tradition, while rooted in a questionable tale of cooperation, is today a celebration of family, friends, and food – elements certainly worth celebrating.  

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