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Plan Your Thanksgiving Around Different Cultures

Expand your family's horizons by adding multicultural elements to your Thanksgiving celebration.

Thanksgiving is often celebrated with turkey, mashed potatoes and football, but that's certainly not the only way to observe the holiday. It's important for children to learn that people all over the world have much to be thankful for. They express their gratitude in a variety of ways, so consider adding a multicultural touch to your Thanksgiving activities this year. A diverse celebration will broaden your family's horizons, teach your children about other cultures and help you better relate to people of different backgrounds.

As Scarlet Paolicchi of Family Focus Blog explains, "Thanksgiving started as a way of giving thanks for the harvest and was originally celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans, so in my mind, it began as a multicultural affair."

For ideas on celebrating a multicultural Thanksgiving, we consulted Paolicchi, as well as Stephanie Meade of InCultureParent and marriage and family therapist Lisa Bahar. Here, they offer six tips for bringing a bit of the larger world into your home this Thanksgiving.

  1. Share Your Meal With People From Other Cultures
    "For many years I have celebrated Thanksgiving with friends who are not American, no matter where I have lived, so much so that it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a bunch of friends over from other countries," shares Meade.

    To learn more about your guests, "Ask questions that are appropriate and considerate of areas that you are not familiar with," recommends Bahar. For example, "What are your thoughts on Thanksgiving?" or "Does your culture have a similar tradition?"

  2. Eat Food From Around the World
    Give your meal a multicultural twist by researching ethnic preparations for traditional autumn foods. "Though there are foods that are typical of an American Thanksgiving meal, other cultures can use the bounty of the fall harvest to introduce their own traditional meals to the feast," proposes Paolicchi.

    Another option is to invite your guests to provide the diverse dishes. "We invite a bunch of our friends from different countries, and everyone is required to bring a dish from their country," shares Meade. "Last year we had Indian samosas, Indian idlis, Moroccan chicken, French veggies and dessert, in addition to the traditional American stuff."

    Bahar offers tips for sampling a variety of new foods: "Try [it] and be respectful. If you don't enjoy the taste, smile and say, 'Thank you.'" But there's a good chance that if you try several new dishes at your Thanksgiving meal, you'll find at least one that you truly enjoy. If your kids are picky eaters, prepare them ahead of time and talk about how to respect other people's cultures and foods.

  3. Learn the Vocabulary of Another Language
    "Learn a word that represents the theme of the day from another culture," suggests Bahar. For example, find out how to say "thank you" in several other languages. If you have guests from other countries participating in your celebration, ask how the word is said in their native tongue. Incorporate as many of these foreign words into your conversation throughout the holiday as possible. Be sure to use the words in a gracious, considerate manner, reminds Bahar.

  4. Decorate With Diversity
    Thanksgiving décor is often autumn-themed, but your decorations can also include multicultural themes. For example, write the foreign language words you are learning that day, such as "merci" and "grazie," on fall-colored papers, and hang them around your dining room.

    Paolicchi advises, "Decorations can be made to combine the cultures of those celebrating." Ask your guests to each bring an item that represents thankfulness to him or her, and display these items around your gathering area. Making decorations could even be a holiday activity; provide art supplies and ask guests to make gratitude-themed banners that reflect their cultural heritage.

  5. Hold a Festive Dance Party
    "Last Thanksgiving, we ended up having a totally impromptu dance party," shares Meade. "It was the most fun I have ever had on Thanksgiving, not to mention the best possible way to digest all that food."

    If you have guests from a variety of backgrounds, start some upbeat music, and see what sort of moves everyone has; you may learn new dances from all over the world. If new dance moves might not be your guests' strong suit, play background music from other cultures.

  6. Play Games From Around the World
    After the meal is over, you may be looking for a low-key activity to keep your guests engaged and occupied. Board games encourage interaction, and "so many have global roots," says Meade. For example, try Ludo from India or Go from China. Additionally, Bahar suggests that games that encourage dialogue, such as Pictionary, can be a fun way to help people learn more about other cultures.

    Thankfulness is a meaningful theme in every culture, so this year, express your gratitude in a way that reflects the diversity of our world. Holding a multicultural celebration doesn't have to mean getting rid of all signs of a traditional American Thanksgiving; rather, the idea is to incorporate a few new elements that will expand your family's horizons. You just might find that a multicultural celebration becomes your family's new Thanksgiving tradition.

Meghan Ross is a freelance writer with a background in child development, education and family life. Her work can be found here.

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