A Place at the Turkey Table
I vividly remember my first Thanksgiving in the U.S. I was sixteen years old, and I had been living in Texas as an exchange student for 3 months. I loved that first Thanksgiving.
Everything about it was new and exciting: the juicy turkey, the flavorful dressing, the buttery green beans, the hot sweet potatoes, the creamy pumpkin pie and the crunchy pecan pie with a scoop of melting vanilla ice cream. By the end of my exchange year in Texas I’d gained fifteen pounds, and I am pretty sure most of them came just from this one Thanksgiving meal.
I also loved seeing how American families celebrate this holiday. They slowed their pace of life. Families spent long, unhurried hours together eating, talking, playing games, and enjoying warm Texas weather (instead of the below-freezing November temperatures I was used to in Eastern Europe).
The best part of this first Thanksgiving, though, was that I was not a distant observer. I was part of it all. It felt good to be welcomed at the table.
Adjusting to American Life
Looking back at that first year as an exchange student, I realize that I was in the honeymoon stage of cross-cultural adaptation, when every aspect of the new culture is fun and exciting. Since then, I have experienced the other stages as well.
After the initial honeymoon phase came the culture shock, when the differences became more difficult and stressful. And then came the last stages: adjustment and adaptation to new culture, when my worldview broadened and the U.S. became a second home.
When you are an immigrant, these stages are no simple linear process. Sometimes you think you have adapted to everything only to learn that there are new things to adjust to. Indeed, I still go through these stages on occasion, even though I have been living here for a long time and consider it my home now.
Welcomed at the Table
Through all the ups and downs of various life stages over the last decade and a half, one constant in my life has been Thanksgiving. Without exception, every year that I have lived here, someone has always invited me over for a Thanksgiving meal. Someone has always welcomed me at their table.
I did not grow up with this holiday, but it has become my favorite because it captures what I love most about American people: the genuine, warm hospitality and friendliness shown to others.
The welcoming of strangers, the gratitude for the daily blessings, the joy of breaking bread (or a turkey wishbone) together have made me fall in love with the people of this country.
There’s Always Room at God’s Table
Thanksgiving was a big part of my adaptation process. And it was through the openness, generosity and hospitality shown me by so many Christians that I encountered Jesus, who also invites us to God’s lavish table. His table, especially, is prepared for us no matter who we are, where we come from, or what stage of life we may be experiencing.
God always has room for us at His table, and He delights in our presence. And that is always a reason to be thankful.
Olga Pahom, Ph.D., is a lecturer-in-residence in Linguistics and Cultural Studies at the Honors College of Lubbock Christian University in Lubbock, Texas.