A Holiday of Expressing Gratitude, Love, and Appreciation

By Shemiza Basdeo

Students, staff and faculty at York College enjoy a variety of foods for Thanksgiving. Some may even surprise you. | Video by Marcel Kernizan

Thanksgiving is one of the most popular and well-known holidays for Americans. This holiday takes place every fourth Thursday in November and originated in 1621, when the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag shared a feast in harmony. 

During this holiday families cook a variety of foods including traditional American staples like turkey, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, cornbread, pumpkin pie. With their own twist of making foods that complement their cultures, recent immigrants bring new traditions to the table. 

This holiday is filled with love as people travel far and near to be with their loved ones to express what they are thankful for, count their blessings, and just be with one another. It is a day when family and friends come together to celebrate life, eat good food and enjoy the moment with one another. 

As time has passed families have developed traditions and routines that they look forward to on Thanksgiving Day. Heather Robinson, a faculty member in the English department, said while she is not from the U.S., when she came here she made her own traditions to celebrate the holiday. She explained that when she was in graduate school, she spent the holiday with her friends, which relates to the term “Friendsgiving,” which a lot of people partake in. 

Robinson said that it was really nice and exciting spending the holiday with good friends. For this upcoming Thanksgiving, she is going to a farm with her family and cooking non-traditional foods that complement her culture. Lastly, she described the holiday as an “Immigrant Thanksgiving” because she follows her own traditions and routines with her family, which is more meaningful. 

Lisa Dunn-Lockhart, a professor in the Teacher Education department, said she spends Thanksgiving with her family and then her in-laws. She explains how it is especially important for her to spend time with both families as it is a day to show gratitude and love. 

Dunn-Lockhart is spending the holiday this year with her mother-in-law. They all have to contribute by bringing a dish of their choice to the house. Also, she indicated how all the kids eat together while all the adults eat separately. In the end, they all sit together to express what they are thankful for and spend the rest of the day together.

Catherine Ramkhalawan, an English major and Education minor, said that her family immigrated from Guyana. They did not know what the holiday was until they came to the U.S. and adapted to American culture by celebrating it annually. Each year Ramkhalawan spends Thanksgiving at a different family member’s home, and they spend a lot of time in advance meticulously planning who will bring what dish.

While there are some traditional foods like turkey, there are mostly a lot of Guyanese-centered dishes to reflect her culture, like curries, fried rice, and pholourie. During the day they go to the designated relative’s home to sit, eat, drink and watch football while enjoying each other’s company and having a grand time.

Jessenia Bermejo, a senior English Education major, said Thanksgiving is mostly a holiday where her culture plays a significant role. Her family comes from an Ecuadorian background that they continue to implement and maintain despite being in America for so long. 

“My mom and I enjoy making humitas, which are steamed corn cakes and we sometimes add cheese in it,” Bermejo said.

 She added that Thanksgiving is a time for her and her mom to bond. They cook together and she learns to cook culture-based dishes that have been in the family for generations. 

“We love making buñuelos, which are fried dough balls that we eat with honey for dessert,” she said. 

Before they eat, they all gather together to state one thing they are thankful for and then say a prayer. Then they enjoy dancing and listening to traditional music, such as yarabi, merengue, salsa, and bachata. 

York College students at walking in the atrium as SGA members prepare to share food for their annual Thanksgiving dinner.
The @YorkCollegeCUNY Student Government Association hosted their annual Thanksgiving dinner in the Academic Core atrium. Some of the dishes included staples like mac and cheese, collard greens and stuffing. Kosher and halal options were also available upon request. | Photo by Niko Balkaran

Professor Jillian Abbott, a faculty member in the English department, remembered her first Thanksgiving and how it was so memorable for her that she still holds it in high esteem. She wrote an article for Edible Queens entitled “My First Thanksgiving.” 

She wrote about how she did not know what to expect after moving from Australia and spending the holiday for the first time with her then-husband and his family. However, she remembered how they ate turkey, vegetables, stuffing and cranberry sauce, her favorite being the sweet potatoes. 

“I was surprised to see a large bag of fresh cranberries emerge from the fridge,” Abbott said. “I was even more surprised to learn that cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries grew wild near where we lived in Maine.”

She described how the house felt warm, cozy, and comfortable and the main highlight of all the dishes was the “sweet, spicy, custard tart, with its subtle pumpkin flavor pumpkin pie.” Abbott said that Thanksgiving is about tradition; it is also about making new traditions, especially for people who did not know about the holiday and are learning about it and doing what works and makes them happy.

Professor Melissa Dinsman, another faculty member in the English department, said she experienced a very traditional Thanksgiving growing up, like having turkey, mac and cheese and pumpkin pie, followed by watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

“My dad was in the Air Force, and we lived abroad when I was growing up, so we often invited non-Americans over so they could share the American experience with us,” Dinsman said.

Now, having a family of her own, she still tries to incorporate the traditional foods she grew up with, but she wants her kids to eat foods they enjoy. So she gives each of them an opportunity to name their favorite food and that is what they get to eat. Dinsman emphasized that Thanksgiving is a day of reflection for her and her family, where they all say one thing for which they are thankful. She likes to keep the day quiet and relaxing as the next day is their annual tradition of putting up the Christmas tree, decorating the house, and getting into the Christmas spirit. 

Thanksgiving is a day when people come together to demonstrate love, gratitude, and appreciation for each other, life and to count their blessings. It is one of those days that feels unreal because it is filled with so much love, joy, and beauty, which are things a lot of us take for granted and forget to remember in our busy daily lives. 

It is important to take a moment to soak up the holiday and enjoy the moment of being surrounded by loved ones, upkeeping traditions, and implementing new traditions because this is what makes life meaningful, worthwhile, and beautiful.

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