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International Students Reflect on What Thanksgiving Means to Them

By Sima Bhowmik
for Hottytoddy.com

Religion may be personal and private, but festivity is public and unrestricted. This realization became more evident to Saiful Huda when he first came to Oxford in 2018 with his wife who is studying journalism at the University of Mississippi.

“I am amazed at the all-embracing festivity of Thanksgiving. Oxford is a small town but people are here so welcoming,” said Huda, from Bangladesh.

Thanksgiving is a seasonal festival to celebrate a successful harvest that is observed all over the world in different names from ancient times. It is Kadazan in Malaysia, Harvest Moon Festival in China, Chuseok in Korea, Festival of Yams in Ghana, Erntedankfest in Germany and Sukkot in Israel.

In the Indian sub-continent Pongal, it is celebrated in Tamil Nadu when crops like rice, sugar and turmeric are harvested usually during January-February season. It is Makar Sankranti in West India, and in the north, it is celebrated as Lohri. Uttarayan, Maghi, Khichdi are some of the other names of the same festival.

Though Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessings of the harvest and of the preceding year, it has similar representations and meanings all over the world. 

“Harvest festivals are celebrated everywhere in the world but in different names and at different times mainly by the farmers. Back in Bangladesh, we have Nabanna to welcome the new harvest at the onset of every winter,” Huda said.

The farmers and their families in Bangladesh and in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam prepare various pies and sweets from the newly harvested grains and they sing and dance to celebrate the occasion.

“Thanksgiving festival is all aimed at spreading happiness to everyone in the society,” said another Bangladeshi Obaida Shammama, a Ph.D. student of political science at Ole Miss.

Her 5-year-old daughter, Ammani, loved the American food which included turkey—a must on the dinner table at every home—at the local church they visited last year.

“We have seen this celebration earlier on television, but experiencing it practically was a different feel. The lighting was an added pleasure for the kid,” said Shammama.

Leaving family and friends back home, celebrating Thanksgiving has a different significance among international students of all religions and countries.

Ereny Abdelmelek from Egypt has been in the states for the last year and a half with her husband and two sons. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR).

“In Egypt we do not have anything like Thanksgiving. Last year my supervisor invited my family over for dinner. My sons were thrilled to see the big turkey on the table,” said Ereny.

Though she has not received any invitation this year, she has plans to cook special at home and take her children to a local church.

Housewife Fariha Irna also went to the church last year soon after she came to join her husband who is also earning his doctorate in chemistry. She said the churches in Oxford organize various programs particularly for the international community to mingle and to make them feel at home.

“There is festivity and lighting everywhere giving hints of the long holiday season ahead. As Thanksgiving is on the last Thursday of November, the long weekend also provides great opportunity to roam around a little,” said Fariha.

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