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Strangers At The Thanksgiving Table

November 25, 2019

With the headlines that greet us each day as we wake up, to the analysis of the day’s events as we end a day comes a need to know there are brighter spots in the nation.  Not everyone in this land is like Donald Trump.  Many, in fact, desire to share international experiences with people who are here in the nation for a variety of reasons.  We welcome them as neighbors, friends, and citizens.  As soon as I read this article in Bon Appetit I knew it had to be posted on CP.

Many a night over the years at our home in Madison James has invited people from the college who had grown up in places as far away as Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, or Russia to have a meal and share in conversations.  To talk about culture and history and ideas over a long evening with someone with differing perspectives remains among some of the most memorable times at our dinner table.

There is the story we tell about Thanksgiving, and then there is the meaning of it. At those dinners, as my mother sliced the pumpkin pie and passed around dishes of homemade almond jelly with fruit—another family tradition—she must have looked at those young students and seen herself and my father 20 years earlier, when they’d been new too. When my parents had arrived in Indiana for graduate school, they were newlyweds in a new state in a new country on a new continent, and neither of them had ever tasted cranberry sauce or turkey before. But they soon made American friends, who invited them to their Thanksgiving table. Who made them feel welcome, who introduced them to Thanksgiving dinner, who encouraged them to think of this country—and these traditions—as their own.

Perhaps my parents invited those foreign students as a way of continuing that cycle, of paying forward what had once been done for them. And despite the oversimplified myth of Thanksgiving, I told them, I like to think all those strangers who dined with us over the years understood something true about Thanksgiving nonetheless. That at heart this holiday is about welcoming others—especially those from far away—and making them feel at home. That there is room to acknowledge both the traditions of the place you’re in and the place you come from. That Thanksgiving dinner is a reminder to everyone— including yourself—that there is space, and goodwill, for everyone.

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