Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 27, 2021

Celebrating Thanksgiving traditions while abroad

By CECILIA VORFELD | November 29, 2018

First of all, I’d like to say that I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and a relaxing break. Secondly, I would like to tell you about mine.

Before going to Hopkins, I’d never lived in the U.S., and Thanksgiving was something I’d only ever heard about in films, sort of like going to high school on big yellow buses or Greek life. I tried the celebration, an arguably important part of experiencing American life, once or twice with different families in the U.S. 

Now, being a junior and all the way off in Amsterdam, it felt just like a normal Thursday. None of the Dutch or other international students even noticed, but for all the American friends I’ve made here, not celebrating Thanksgiving was a huge deal.

Because I’m still trying to figure it all out, I always ask people what the holiday means to them. Lots of people respond that it’s about eating a lot and go on to rave about how good the food is. It’s the turkey or the stuffing or the mashed potatoes or the cranberry sauce! What about the corn bread? And the pumpkin pie? 

These aren’t really things that we eat a lot here in Europe. In fact, I had never tried the latter two until November of my freshman year, even though my friends had been eating them for years.

The most meaningful part, however, seems to be the time shared with friends, family and loved ones. People travel great distances to be together. I remember being totally oblivious to this my freshman year when I tried to buy a train ticket from New York, where I had celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time, back to Baltimore. I didn’t realize that many others across the country would be trying to do the same thing. Somehow, I made it back, but I definitely learned my lesson.

I also heard how people had other traditions, like watching football, playing board games or getting ready for Christmas with Black Friday around the corner. We may not celebrate Thanksgiving in Europe, but we certainly have Black Friday. I’m not complaining though; any excuse for a sale is good enough for me. 

I heard about all of these traditions again when I celebrated Thanksgiving with some American friends of mine in Amsterdam. They’d all been talking about it in class for days and figuring out how to best replicate what they missed from home. To be absent during such a meaningful holiday was understandably very upsetting for many people. Homesickness definitely hits hard at this time of year for any American that has spent their whole life at home with loved ones in the U.S. on the last Thursday of November each year.

Social media makes it especially difficult as you see everyone else enjoying themselves and eating lots of delicious food when you have to get up and go to class. People even had family fly out for the holiday to reunite everyone for the occasion. I think that is a wonderful thing to do, but it’s obviously not possible for every family who has a child abroad. Also, it still wouldn’t feel the same as having it on your own home turf.

Certainly, what I like most about this holiday is the message of being thankful. Everyone can benefit from a reminder to be grateful, Americans and non-Americans alike. Although ideally you would be thankful every day, I am glad there is a day set aside to remind us to have such a positive mindset.

However, having Thanksgiving every day could be very dangerous for people’s health. I certainly ate far too much at our Thanksgiving dinner in Amsterdam, and it reminded me of why this should be only an annual celebration. Being so far away from family and loved ones back at home, I think that we all felt especially thankful that we had each other and for how blessed we are to have something so great to miss. 

Even though the holiday means very little to me, I too felt an appreciation for my family and loved ones that I couldn’t be with. Being in Amsterdam has been such a fun and unique experience, and it could one day become my home, but for now, I look forward to enjoying my time here and then being reunited with the people I love the most, my family.

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