5 Reasons Why Thanksgiving is Special (Especially at Miami University)

Miami University students and Oxford community members at the ISSS Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner.
Miami University students and Oxford community members at the ISSS Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner.

By Andres Oliver, Assistant Study Abroad Advisor 

In a few short weeks, many Miami students will be going home to celebrate Thanksgiving. However, those staying on campus need not miss out on the festivities. Hosted by International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at Miami University, the 2017 Global Neighbors Friendship Program Thanksgiving Dinner will bring together Miami international students, faculty, staff, and Oxford community members for an early Thanksgiving on Wednesday, November 15, 5:30—7:00 p.m., in Miami University Armstrong Pavilion C.

The Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner provides an opportunity for international students to experience an iconic American holiday—often for the first time—and build connections with the local community, while also allowing Miami University to express appreciation for its vibrant international community. This year will mark the seventh since the program’s launch. Guests can enjoy a buffet-style Thanksgiving dinner, a musical performance, arts and crafts, and more.

Though other countries have their own harvest festival celebrations—China’s Mid-Autumn Festival and Germany’s Erntedankfest are just a couple of examples—many international students may be unfamiliar with America’s unique take on the tradition. Is it the pumpkin pie? The turkey? The cranberry sauce? Is it the sitting around the dinner table with family and friends? Read on for a list of 5 reasons why Thanksgiving is special.

1. Giving Thanks

thankful in different languagesAt its core, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to, well… give thanks. Give thanks for what, you ask? The answer to that lies in the history of the Pilgrims, separatists from the Church of England who settled in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts in the early 17th century. Americans may recall elementary school history classes spent learning about the Pilgrims, or images in textbooks of men in funny hats (it’s called a capotain, by the way) sharing a feast with Native Americans.

It’s true that a feast took place in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the local Wampanoag Native American tribes. As historian Jim Adams explains in this interview with NPR, two Wampanoag advisors had been sent to aid the struggling Plymouth colonists. The local tribes were not without their own troubles, having been decimated by foreign diseases. The Thanksgiving celebration of 1621 represented a “melding of several currents,” argues Adams, including the traditional English celebration of the harvest, local Native American harvest celebrations, and Puritan religious observances.

Today, many families begin the Thanksgiving meal by going around the table and sharing what everyone is thankful for. It’s not uncommon to see classrooms decorated with cutout turkeys, hands, or leaves carrying messages such as, “I am thankful for my friends” or “I am thankful for my parents.” This year’s Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner will feature a photo booth where guests can take pictures showing what they are thankful for.

2. Family

Global Neighbors Thanksgiving dinner 2016For some, Thanksgiving is all about reconnecting not only with immediate family, but also with relatives living in other parts of the country. It’s about seeing how tall your cousins have gotten and catching up on family news and gossip. For others, the thought of sitting around the dinner table with the whole clan—not-so-politically-correct grandparents; that one aunt who’s always asking why you’re still single—can be nothing short of panic inducing. Regardless of which camp you fall into, family Thanksgivings are usually nothing if not memorable.

Guests at this year’s Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner will be able to celebrate with a different kind of family—one made up of friends and colleagues in the Miami and Oxford communities. What better way to bond than over good food, drink, and conversation?

3. Food

Food alone could easily provide 10 reasons why Thanksgiving is special. Leaving aside the question of what the best part of the Thanksgiving meal is (let’s be honest, it’s the stuffing), few, if any other American holidays can compare for sheer quantity of food consumed. When it comes to Thanksgiving, eating to the point of discomfort is not only acceptable, but, indeed, encouraged.

Thanksgiving dinner typically features some combination of turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, stuffing, greens, and pies. That said, these dishes can vary wildly from one family to another, as well as between regions. Just consider all of the different takes on stuffing (or "dressing," depending on where you live): cornbread stuffing, oyster stuffing, sausage stuffing, Boston brown bread stuffing... The possibilities are endless. Some Southerners might scoff at the idea of Thanksgiving without macaroni and cheese. Some New Englanders might look around the dinner table for the creamed onions. Changing up the menu is half the fun, especially when you consider that today's Thanksgiving probably looks quite different from the so-called “first Thanksgiving.”

Catered by Miami University, the 2017 Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner will include a buffet selection of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, greens, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie.

Thanksgiving Infographic Facts. The Thanksgiving holiday tradition started in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts by Pilgrims who were celebrating a good Harvest. 51 Million: total number of turkeys that are consumed on Thanksgiving. 2100 pounds: the largest pumpkin ever grown weighed. That's enough to make 700 pumpkin pies! 7.5 million barrels of cranberries are produced each year.

4. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

MUMB in 2011 Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeIt just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without waking up to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade playing on the living room television. With colossal, self-powered balloons featuring everyone from SpongeBob to the ever-popular Snoopy, the world’s largest parade draws millions of viewers every year. This cultural touchstone has had a colorful history since its inception in 1924. Originally intended as a Christmas celebration, the inaugural parade paired nursery-rhyme-themed floats with real, live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. Parade organizers quickly realized that having zoo animals parade down the middle of Manhattan was not, in fact, a good idea.

Though this year’s Global Neighbors Thanksgiving Dinner falls a few weeks earlier than Thanksgiving itself, international students and other guests should be sure to catch the 2017 Macy’s Day Parade on Thursday, November 23, 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. EST. For viewing suggestions and a preview of the lineup, visit the event’s interactive homepage.

Fun Fact: The Miami University Marching Band marched in the 2011 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

5. Shopping

Black FridayUp to now, we’ve covered some of the more traditional aspects of the Thanksgiving holiday. However, the picture would be incomplete without a look at Thanksgiving’s more materialistic side. Many are already counting down the days to Thanksgiving week, scouring the Internet for holiday deals on everything from power tools to video games. They’re making their shopping lists and checking them twice… that’s right: Black Friday 2017 is coming to a store near you.

It’s a familiar sight come Thanksgiving week: herds of shoppers stampeding through stores, fighting tooth and nail over heavily discounted flat screen TVs and other items. Countless YouTube videos pay homage to this quintessentially American tradition. Though Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving, continues to be the most popular shopping day, changing consumer trends have begun to eat into its numbers.

One recent headline from The Washington Post proclaims that The era of holiday deals is dead, and so is Black Friday, citing the rise in both online shopping and year-round discounts as reasons behind Black Friday’s decline. Given that stores have faced backlash in recent years for opening their doors on Thanksgiving itself, forcing employees to sacrifice precious time with family, some may welcome the beginning of the end for this particular holiday tradition.

And there you have it: a list of just a few reasons of why Thanksgiving is special (especially at Miami University). Now that you’ve learned a little more about the history of the holiday and its associated traditions, why not come enjoy an early Thanksgiving with members of the Miami and Oxford communities? Visit the Miami University International Education Week website page to view a schedule of events and reserve your spot at the Thanksgiving dinner event.

We leave you with a formal invitation to this year’s Global Neighbors Friendship Program Thanksgiving Dinner from Molly Heidemann, Associate Director of International Student and Scholar Services at Miami University.