Thanksgiving Holiday? What’s that?

November 13, 2012

This is a country founded by immigrants. Twenty-three years ago I came from Mexico search of new learning experiences that would strengthen my engineering background so that I could better support my wife, four year-old daughter, two year-old son and newborn daughter. That was just the beginning of a new life adventure as a family. We sold everything we had: our house, cars, furniture, clothes and toys. Soon afterwards, I began my studies at Texas A&I University in Kingsville, Texas. We did not know anyone, barely spoke English, and weren’t familiar with the area, customs or culture, etc. It was a unique but difficult experience.

The first time I heard about Thanksgiving was November 1989 while I was a student and almost all my classmates went to their hometown to spend the long four-day weekend with their families. That Thursday afternoon, while the university was practically empty, I got an unexpected visit. One of my classmates from Pakistan could not return to his country because of the time and money it would take. Instead, he stayed and brought a turkey dish big enough to feed everyone in my family. I thanked him and asked what the deal was. “Today is Thanksgiving!” he said. “What’s that?” I asked. He explained to me why this country had a Thanksgiving holiday. He described the tradition of eating turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potato and other dishes. He also spoke to me about how the European pilgrims came to the new continent full of hope. It’s funny to think that it was another immigrant that first shared the Thanksgiving tradition with me.

Based on that experience, I began to look for more information about Thanksgiving and why it was important for the people of this country. I discovered that the United States was founded by immigrants who came in search of new opportunities for their families and the freedom to exercise their faith. It reminded me of some Bible stories, such as when Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus had to emigrate to Egypt for their safety and when the Hebrew people went in search of the Promised Land. I identified myself with their motivation — what was best for my family?
This country still receives so many immigrants from all over the world. Virgilio Elizondo calls this current influx of South and Central American families, “The Second Wave,” following the first wave of mainly European immigrants in the 1600s. 

My understanding of Thanksgiving as a Catholic has been enriched tremendously since then. I have experienced multilingual Thanksgiving Eucharistic celebrations (something I never would have anticipated), friends who open their homes to everyone and the sharing of many different dishes, including turkey cooked in very different forms and all kinds of desserts. This is what we are all about as Catholics: we are a “Universal Welcoming Church.”

Now, I experience the heart of our Catholic faith at the Eucharistic table celebration. There, in community with a lot of people I know and a lot of people I do not know yet, all of us are united in Christ to give thanks. I am so glad to be in this country that has welcomed me and my family from the very beginning.

Thanksgiving is a family celebration. We should take a moment to reflect on what it means to us. How we can treasure this tradition for future generations? What is special and unique in our family about Thanksgiving? Do we thank God for a house in which to gather, food to share and family and friends with whom to share our memories?

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks to God and celebrate with family. Don’t let Thanksgiving be the only time of year you tell each other what you appreciate about them. This is one of the most important family meals during the year; let’s take advantage of this unique celebration, enjoy our family time and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Deacon Arturo Monterrubio is Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Family Life Ministry.