Thanksgiving in the US dates backs to the early 1600s when English pilgrims held a celebration to express their gratitude to the natives.  While it wasn’t called “Thanksgiving” just yet, the festival they held in celebration of their harvest is the basis for the holiday.  The coming together of the natives and pilgrims continues to symbolize the divergence of cultures in America since then.  Now, over 400 years later, it’s no surprise how diverse the country has become and how each culture has brought something different to the table, literally.  Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to come together, enjoy a feast around the table and give thanks for all the good in their lives.  Since then, many families from all over the world have settled into America and adopted the holiday as their own.  In doing so, they have added on their own traditions and cultural elements.

For me, as a Filipino-American who was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to America at a young age with my family, we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in the US with a touch of our own cultural ingredients.  The typical cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes & gravy, pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes are replaced with traditional Filipino food like pork adobo, pancit (noodles), chicken appretada, leche flan, biko cake and coconut juice.  We do, however, still serve the American Thanksgiving turkey.  Aside from the variances in food, we also don’t do the “dinner-around-the-table” ordeal or watch the Thanksgiving football game.

Instead, we set up our food buffet-style, pile our plates with food, say grace and gather in the living room to either watch a movie or do karaoke.  To further investigate how other cultures celebrate this end-of-Autumn holiday, I asked a few friends, of different backgrounds, what Thanksgiving is like for them and their families.  For the majority, it seems like the key differences lie in the type of foods that are being served, what kind of celebration (dinner setting or full-out party with music), or how religious some people interpret Thanksgiving to be (attending church that day or saying a prayer at dinner).

Here are some examples of differences that were stated:

Alexandra from Puerto Rico:
-Instead of traditional turkey stuffing, we use “mofongo” (a plantain-based dish combined with seafood, meat or vegetables)
-Tostones and/or amarillos (more variations of plantains) are served as sides
-Instead of pumpkin pie, tembleque (a cinnamon-coated, coconut custard) is served for dessert
-After dinner, the dancing festivities commence (salsa, merengue, bachata & other cultural dances)

Jonathan from Jamaica:
-Noted that they typically don’t celebrate Thanksgiving back on the island, but have adopted the holiday here in America.
-Instead of the traditional, roasted turkey, they deep fry their turkey with jerk seasoning (typical of Jamaican dishes)

Samantha from Canada:
-Although it is celebrated on a different day & month back in Canada, “We have adopted the American Thanksgiving date that falls on a Thursday in November.”
-Instead of football we watch hockey
-“Everything else is pretty much the same as the American traditions.”

Juan from Mexico:
-“We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Mexico; in America, we only celebrate if we’re invited into a home that does.”
-Usually, variations of traditional Thanksgiving dinner where a Mexican flair is added into the ingredients.

Dena from the Mohegan Tribe (Native American):
-Many people know the story of how the natives gained their respect from the colonists during the “First Thanksgiving” but what people don’t know is the long history of violence and discrimination we suffered because it’s not represented in textbooks.
-As a result, Thanksgiving isn’t as major or that big of a deal as others may assume it is for us.  We do, however, still have a special dinner with the families within our tribe.

As you can see, since the first Thanksgiving, many families from all over the world have adopted this American holiday.  They have made it their own by incorporating different cultural elements into their family gathers.  When looking back on the first celebration with the pilgrims and natives, we can see that the true essences of Thanksgiving still lives on today.  It’s a celebration of diversity, acceptance, changes and most importantly, gratitude; for all of the above and more.