“What’s pumpkin pie?” and other Thanksgiving questions

So what’s all this fuss about a turkey? And what the heck is pumpkin pie? The fourth Thursday of November marks one of the biggest holidays of the year, and many international students are preparing to join American families to partake in this cultural celebration. For Americans, Thanksgiving is about much more than good food and a few days off from school – it’s about family, friends and taking the time to reflect on the things you are grateful for. For some families, the holiday is as or more important than other celebrations like Christmas.

Patricia Caballero, an alumni of the Northwest Community College Initiative Program (NWCCI) from Panama who attended Whatcom Community College in 2011-2012, says students should expect to meet members of the extended family like aunts, uncles and grandparents as Thanksgiving is a time when families tend to get together. She advises students to “try to be open and at least try a bit of each dish they will have on the table. And yes, you will eat turkey with cranberry sauce and for dessert pumpkin pie.”

“What I learned about Thanksgiving is to be thankful for what we have and to celebrate the end of the harvest. This tradition taught me more about the American culture because now I know the meaning of this holiday and how important is to share within the family,” she adds.

Barbara Rosa, a tourism and hospitality major from Brazil who studied at Edmonds Community College in 2011-2012, says even though she had researched it she didn’t really understand Thanksgiving  until she spent last year with her friendship family.

“I was amazed by the amount of food they were preparing. All the family got together and there were around 18 people in the house, and still there were left overs for everyone. Turkey, pork, toasted bread, lots of pies… everything was delicious. I also remember helping the children to decorate a gingerbread house and to eat the candies afterwards. That was a fun and different experience, because I didn’t have much contact with children in the United States. Also football was a big deal, but I didn’t stay for a long time since my friendship family had to drive me back home,” Barbara explains.

She advises students to ask the families if they should bring something. “A kind of pie or maybe a traditional dish from your country could be a good addition and it would show you are interested in the holiday and thankful for being invited,” she says.

She also says that if families are religious, they might pray before the meal. “Show respect even if you don’t follow the same religion. Besides that, have fun! It’s a great opportunity to be familiar with the American culture and an unforgettable experience,” Barbara adds.

Julie Wescliff, an Edmonds Community College staff member, will be hosting several international students at her house for Thanksgiving. She says that one of her family traditions to is have everyone write down what they are thankful for on a piece of paper, and she then collects them and people try to guess who wrote what.

Anurag Hoon, an NWCCI alumni from Edmonds Community College, spends Thanksgiving visiting with his friendship family, Dale and Carol Schlack, who have participated in the friendship family program for the last three years.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of the Thanksgiving experience:

1)     Communicate with the family about whether they dress up for dinner, or if it is informal.

2)     Ask whether or not you should bring a dish to share.

3)     Make sure transportation arrangements are clear before you go as the bus will not always be running on Thanksgiving.

4)     It is important to make sure you arrive on time.

5)     Your host will appreciate if you bring some sort of a small gift, like candy or flowers or something from your country to express appreciation.

6)     Let your host know if you have any dietary restrictions (allergies or foods you don’t eat) ahead of time.

7)    If an American family invites you to spend Thanksgiving with them, they are inviting you into their family for the day. A lot of preparation and planning go into Thanksgiving, so they will decide how much food to make based on the number of guests. If you have said you will attend, it would be very disrespectful to cancel at the last minute.

7)     Do some research (see below) to understand the history of Thanksgiving. has an excellent overview of this American holiday.

8)     Think about what YOU are thankful for!

Here you’ll find a youtube video from the History Channel that tells you a bit about the history of the holiday.

And make sure you learn about our favorite part of Thanksgiving, the pumpkin pie:

And did you know that the President of United States pardons a turkey every year?

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