Thanksgiving celebration is an American tradition that dated as far back as the early 17th century when the first Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, in what is now the state of Massachusetts, in search of religious freedom. They had difficult times adapting to the difficult life and the cold, harsh weather in their new world. A Native American tribe helped and taught them how to farm and hunt to survive the brutal winters.
So those who survived the first difficult years held harvest festivals and religious celebrations in 1621 to give thanks to God, and to the American Indians who helped them by inviting the native Americans to join in the feasts that went on for many days. These events formed the basis of the holiday that Americans now celebrate.
Thanksgiving Day has different meanings to people in the US, but for most it is the day they celebrate the happy times and giving thanks. The day is celebrated in virtually the same way. Family members come together to celebrate, to eat and just have fun. The main dishes for the evening meal would be roasted turkey, ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, massed potato, yam, pumpkin and apple pies, and a lot of vegetables, corn, corn bread and all.
Joel Upton from Livingston, Tennessee, summarizes it this way, “Thanksgiving at my family was always a time when brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, we all got together. And someone would bring different dishes. Someone would bring the sweet potatoes. Someone would bring the meat. Someone would bring the dressing. And we would all sort of combine the efforts to have a family Thanksgiving dinner and bring out the good china for that particular event. And Thanksgiving also, in my early days when I was a child, the kids would all get to play, maybe we hadn't seen each other for a while. The men would always watch a football game on TV. And Thanksgiving was just a really, really special time. And, of course, we had in mind the Pilgrims and what it was all about too. But it was a family time."
Laotians who came to the United States in the mid 70’s and early 80’s have also adopted this tradition to give thanks to this great country for providing them a new home and new life.
For our special Thanksgiving report, we asked two Laotian-Americans how they celebrate Thanksgiving in their bi-cultural world.
Ny Derry of Michigan, a Laotian married to an American, told VOA that “Thanksgiving is the time to give thanks, to give back to the community. I thank America for the opportunity to come and make this land a new home. I have two children. Their father would teach them how to prepare the turkey and have a fun time together. As for me, I have my older parents with me; and they enjoy Lao food. So I would cook the traditional Lao food for them. We celebrate both culture and traditions.”
Vannavimon Sotakoun and her family in Corona, California, said “I have a large family; we have to break into two parts, we would have a Thanksgiving dinner on the weekend with my family side. Then on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I would go to my husband’s side to celebrate. We have to share both sides. This is the time that we get together to be with each other and just have fun. We cook both Lao and American food; that way we can enjoy both.”
Towns and cities across the country celebrate Thanksgiving Day in different ways. But the biggest and most famous celebration takes place in New York City, with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which is well-known for its spectacular floats with marching bands, music and huge floating balloons in the shape of famous cartoon characters, to the delight of children.
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