It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the recent Prayer Gardens Christmas lighting, Thanksgiving just around the corner and those few can’t wait students already jamming out to Christmas music, Oral Roberts University is in the holiday spirit. Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, there are many international students who have never celebrated Thanksgiving before.
“I do know that you guys eat a lot, like a lot,” freshman Alejandro Camacho from Costa Rica said. “I
don’t really know like why it’s a special day or whatever, I just know that you guys gather together and you have this huge meal.”
Canada has its own Thanksgiving holiday, one that junior Alejandra Arevalo’s family celebrates with a Guatemalan twist.
“I was born and raised in Canada, in Toronto, but my family came from Guatemala about 30 years ago. In Guatemala, they don’t have a history to have Thanksgiving, so they don’t celebrate that,” Arevalo said. “But when they came to Canada, they decided that they were going to assimilate to the culture, so because of that, we do celebrate Thanksgiving.”
Arevalo’s family is full of cultural diversity, so the holiday season is full of many different traditions.
“It’s not your typical Thanksgiving. My family, having a Guatemalan background, we usually in corporate Guatemalan foods and customs with the Canadian point of view,” Arevalo said. “So we’ll have the turkey and the mashed potatoes and the gravy, but we’ll also have like, black beans and tortillas on the side.”
Being away from family during the Canadian Thanksgiving is hard for Arevalo. Still, she enjoys the excitement surrounding an American Thanksgiving and has spent her last few Thanksgiving breaks with friends in the States.
“I didn’t realize how important Thanksgiving is in the States, and I find it more important here than back home, at least in my family,” Arevalo explained. “I mean we celebrate it, but it’s not the same excitement. When I woke up on Thanksgiving morning for the first time, I felt like it was Christmas and I was so excited. And there was food that I had never heard of before, like dressing. We call that stuffing, and it tastes different. I like the one here better. Ours is a little bit more bitter.”
Another American tradition different from the Canadian Thanksgiving is Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving that marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.
“Which was kind of a shock for me, because first you’re giving thanks and then you’re getting for yourself,” Arevalo laughed. “That confused me a little bit, although I did enjoy the deals. I got some good things.”
The American Thanksgiving holiday is a commemoration of the first harvest by the Pilgrims in 1621,
and is celebrated with a traditional meal.
“I’ve never celebrated Thanksgiving before, because back home, it’s not really a thing to celebrate,” freshman Fishomi Philip-King from the United Kingdom said. “So basically, it’s kind of when family gets together and celebrates with food and family. It’s just like a time of joy and peace and family and unity.”
Besides America and Canada, most nations don’t have a holiday between Halloween and Christmas, so their Christmas season begins Nov. 1.
“In November, people start selling Christmas stuff and getting into the holiday spirit, I guess,” junior Ivanna Kilala from Tanzania said. “Back home, we just celebrate Christmas like everybody else. We just put up a tree, decorate our house. I don’t think it’s as competitive as the neighborhoods here.”
The Christmas holiday is universal in the ways different countries celebrate it, though there still are differences, for instance, many Americans will go all out in decorating their houses and lawns with lights, statues, ands wreaths.
“Christmas, I would say it’s kind of similar like over here. You give presents to each other, you have the Christmas tree, advertisements about Christmas,” Camacho said. “Since Costa Rica is a Catholic
state, they relate it to Baby Jesus. So I would say that it’s more, ‘What do you want from Baby Jesus?’ Not ‘What do you want from Santa Clause?’ You make your list and everything, but you make it for Baby Jesus. But yeah, we just gather together, give presents to each other.”
While recognizing the cultural diversity on campus, the holiday season has officially begun for ORU. It’s a time to be thankful, cheerful, and motivated to make it through classes before break.
“I’m thankful for good friends that I’ve made this year, I’m thankful to be going to a great school and having new opportunities and new doorways that are opening up for me,” Kilala said. “There’s lots to be thankful for, and if I could just sit down and think about everything I’m thankful for, I think I’d appreciate it a lot more. But there’s a lot that has happened this semester that I’m thankful for. It’s only by the grace of God that it’s all possible.”
For students from among the 90 nations represented at ORU, American holiday traditions may be new to them or celebrated differently than in their home countries, but all agree on one thing – they look forward to the festivities and commemorating the end of the semester with feasts, gift-giving and fellowship and an attitude of gratitude.