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Thanksgiving: A unique holiday for a uniquely diverse nation

What does Thanksgiving really mean to you? Is it just a really big dinner, or is there something more about it that maybe you've forgotten?
 
It is unique among American holidays in that it is both civic and religious in its origins. It is unlike Christmas and Easter which are, strictly speaking, religious holy days that were adopted by the general culture as holidays, or Independence Day which is completely civic.
 
There is a bit of controversy as to where the holiday began. New Englanders say it was started as a harvest feast attended by both settlers and Native Americans in thanksgiving for the Plymouth colony's first harvest. Virginians point to celebrations a bit earlier in Berkley Hundred and Jamestown.
 
In both cases there was reason to be thankful and not just for food but for being alive. Within a year of their arrival half of the New England colonists were dead as were three quarters of the original Virginia colonists, either from starvation or disease.
 
Of all American holidays, Thanksgiving is a celebration of immigrants because it traces back to our immigrant forefathers and foremothers who at great sacrifice laid the foundation of a new nation.
 
The tradition continues as recent immigrants also pause to thank God for his blessings and enjoy a feast usually including that peculiar American fowl, a turkey.
 
Lan-Huong Lam, a member of the Vietnamese community at South Philadelphia's St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, has been in America for 10 years. Although her family still celebrates traditional Vietnamese holidays, especially for the New Year, they also have embraced Thanksgiving in a way that is strikingly American.
 
"My family will come to my father's house this year, (and) next year we will all go to my uncle's house," she told CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
 
And yes, they will have dishes such as turkey and mashed potatoes, but along with that they will have traditional Vietnamese foods for those members who prefer them.
 
Reyna Mota, who is a member of the Dominican Republic community that worships at St. Leo Church in Philadelphia, really buys into the true meaning of Thanksgiving as a way to give thanks to God and celebrate our blessings.
 
While she and her husband are immigrants, "our kids were born here," she said. Like many other Americans new or old, she and her husband and children were hitting the road to travel to Salisbury, Maryland, for an extended family get-together.
 
The traditional turkey, cranberry sauce and all the fixings will be on the table as well as chicken because turkey is not something their family is used to. Of course, one of the desserts will be flan, a staple in Central America.
 
If a number of the relatives prefer chicken it had better be more than one bird because "we will have about 30 people there," Mota said.
Samuel Abu, a Liberian native who works for Philadelphia's archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, is a member of Divine Mercy Parish in West Philadelphia and he has 12 years in the U.S.
Thanksgiving is a national holiday in Liberia also, probably because the country was founded by former American slaves who returned to Africa after the Civil War. But it is just a day off there, with no special traditions. He was surprised when he came to the U.S. and found what a big deal it is here.
 
"When we came here we didn't like turkey," he confessed, and his family would go out to eat. Now he and his wife have four kids and they all love turkey.
 
Abu's wife loves to prepare the Thanksgiving dinner, and in that tradition the whole family gathers around the table for the feast. But in his household they don't do stuffing and they eat the turkey in gravy as in a stew.
 
Another dish they favor which most Americans would not connect with Thanksgiving is the root vegetable that is much more familiar in the tropics than the potato: cassava.
 
But whatever they eat or don't eat, "We are thankful to God that we are able to live this life and pray for the families who are not able to do this, especially my father and my mother," Abu said. "We thank God for our jobs and our children and the opportunity to own our home."
Hari Chan, who has been in America for 15 years, is a member of the Indonesian community that worships at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. On Thanksgiving his family will probably gather for Mass in the chapel at their parish.
 
Then the Indonesian community members will all get together at the adjacent Aquinas Center for a potluck meal. It will include turkey of course, but also Indonesian favorites.
 
While they don't have Thanksgiving in Indonesia there are other holidays, mostly Muslim, because most Indonesians are Muslim. But just as in America where non-Christians celebrate Christmas, "there we celebrate the Muslim holidays too," Chan said.
 
Maguy Jean Baptiste is part of the Haitian community at St. Cyril Parish in East Lansdowne and she has made America her home for 10 years. People do eat turkey in Haiti Jan. 1, which is both New Year's Day and Independence Day, she said.
 
As in so many American households on Thanksgiving Day, her sons will watch football, something that is not played in Haiti.
 
It will be a big meal because not just her husband and their five kids but also her sister's family with four kids will gather around the table. As an extra she always invites someone from the neighborhood who is alone for the holiday.
 
As part of the festivities the family members will draw names for gifts for the Pollyanna at Christmas. Also the family will take up a collection to send back to Haiti to help their struggling families there.
 
Maria Alvin, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Southampton, was born in Portugal but her family came to America when she was 7, and now she is married with a family of her own.
 
"My parents are still alive and we will all get together at my house," she said. "There will be about 12 people." It will be a traditional turkey dinner, but since her dad still doesn't like turkey, she will probably prepare a chicken and maybe some pork.
"Thanksgiving means freedom, the family all getting together, being thankful for what you have," she said.
 
A member of the French-speaking community at St. Cyprian Parish in Philadelphia named Dosse came to America 13 years ago from Togo. He and his wife have three kids, all born in the USA
 
In Togo the main holidays are Christmas and New Year's Day, but other than that there are no holidays with a long weekend. Dosse and his family will celebrate the same way many other people here do.
 
Most important, he told CatholicPhilly.com, "Thanksgiving is the time to thank God for everything, for his support in our lives."
 
  • Published in Nation

Thanksgiving Day Appeal for Protection of the Vulnerable

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), offers a Thanksgiving Day message to the nation with special gratitude for the gift of immigrants and refugees. 

Full statement follows:

“As we do every year, we will pause this coming Thursday to thank God for the many blessings we enjoy in the United States. My brother bishops and I, gathered last week in Baltimore, were attentive in a special way to those who are often excluded from this great abundance—the poor, the sick, the addicted, the unborn, the unemployed, and especially migrants and refugees.

My brothers expressed a shared and ever-greater sense of alarm—and urgency to act—in the face of policies that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago: the deportation of Dreamers, young hard-working people who should be the lowest priority for deportation; the anxiety and uncertainty of those with Temporary Protected Status from countries like Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras, which are still recovering from natural disasters and remain ill-equipped to humanely receive and integrate them; and an unprecedented reduction in the number of people we will welcome this year into our country who seek refuge from the ravages of war and religious persecution in their countries of origin. 

One common feature of all these developments is their tendency to tear apart the family, the fundamental building block of our, or any, society. These threats to so many vulnerable immigrant and refugee families must end now. My brothers have urged me to speak out on their behalf to urge the immediate passage—and signature—of legislation that would alleviate these immediate threats to these families.

Another common feature of these policies is that they are symptoms of an immigration system that is profoundly broken and requires comprehensive reform. This is a longer-term goal, one that the bishops have advocated for decades to achieve, and one that must never be overlooked. Only by complete reform will we have the hope of achieving the common goals of welcoming the most vulnerable, ensuring due process and humane treatment, protecting national security, and respecting the rule of law. We are committed to such reforms and will continue to call for them.

So this year, I give thanks for the gift and contributions of immigrants and refugees to our great nation. I also pray that next year, families now under threat will not be broken and dispersed, but instead will be united in joy around their tables, giving thanks for all the blessings our nation has to offer. 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving all!”
  • Published in Nation

Celebrating a Catholic Halloween and Thanksgiving

Fall brings with it several holidays that commonly are celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike. While the secular focus of Halloween and Thanksgiving festivities can err toward consumerism and gluttony, the Christian roots and perspectives of these celebrations offer much more to celebrants. The word “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows’ Eve” (Oct. 31), which refers to the day before All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1). The noun “hallow,” which means “saint,” derives from the Old English adjective “hallowed” with which Christians should be familiar from its use in The Lord’s Prayer (“hallowed be thy name”). In some parts of the world, attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead remain popular All Hallows’ Eve traditions. Christians have been celebrating thanksgiving meals since the time of Jesus and continue to do so each time they celebrate the Eucharist. (The Greek word “eucharistia” means “thanksgiving.”) Before the American holiday was instituted by Abraham Lincoln to celebrate unity and thanksgiving, the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ to unify the faithful in thanksgiving to God for all creation (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1359-1361). Below are a few ideas to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving the Catholic way.
 
Saintly sweets
Having a party? Here are some ideas to make candy dishes inspired by saints. Fill bowls up with each of these candies and label them with the saint to which they correspond. It’s is a great way for kids and adults to learn more about saints while enjoying some delicious sweets too. St. Barbara, patron saint of lightning and fireworks - Pop Rocks St. Bernard, patron saint of mountaineers and skiers - Andes mints St. Corbinian, patron saint of bears - Gummy bears St. Florian, patron saint of fires and firefighters - Red Hots St. Francis, patron saint of animals - Frosted animal crackers St. Isidore, patron saint of farmers -Candy corn St. Nicholas, patron saint of children - Sour Patch Kids St. Perpetua, patron saint of cows -Cow Tails St. Peter, patron saint of fishermen - Swedish Fish St. Rupert, patron saint of salt miners -Salted caramel chocolates
 
Be a saint for Halloween
Teach children about different saints by having them dress up as one. Pick a saint based on the name of your church, child, family member or favorite saint. Research, read and learn more about the saint you’ve selected. Most saints can be depicted using traditional costumes with some added items that symbolize the saint. For instance, a princess costume could be St. Margaret, queen of Scotland or St.
Isabella, queen of Portugal; add and carry a cross to be St. Brigid, a Scottish princess; or St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great.
 
Giving thanks
Give thanks to God before your Thanksgiving meal with this Thanksgiving Table Prayer. O Gracious God, we give you thanks for your overflowing generosity to us. Thank you for the blessings of the food we eat and especially for this feast today. Thank you for our home and family and friends, especially for the presence of those gathered here. Thank you for our health, our work and our play. Please send help to those who are hungry, alone, sick and suffering war and violence. Open our hearts to your love. We ask your blessing through Christ your son. Amen
--From “Celebrating Faith: Year-round Activities for Catholic Families,” by Mary Cronk Farrell
 
Back from the Dead Cemetery Walk Sunday, Oct. 29, 5 - 8 p.m. at St. John Vianney Parish, South Burlington. This evening is open to the whole family. “Back from the Dead Cemetery Walk” is an engaging and inspiring evangelization drama to help teach the Catholic faith about the “Last Things” including teachings on the Communion of Saints, the angels and the three great virtues: faith, hope and charity. For more information: backfromthedead.org.
 
--Originally published in the Fall 2017 Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Rice Memorial High School students provide families with Thanksgiving baskets

SOUTH BURLINGTON—Students and members of the Rice Memorial High School community helped 21 families have a happier Thanksgiving this year by providing them with baskets of food for a Thanksgiving meal.
 
They also engaged in a bit of competition with first place basket awarded to religion teacher Patrick Welsch’s class for a Snoopy "basket,” and second place going to History teacher Christian Frenette's class. Third place went to religion teacher Marti Burt's class.
 
Every first-period class was responsible for putting together the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal. Students are encouraged to be creative in their presentation and often go above and beyond what is asked.  
 
  • Published in Schools
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