After their first difficult year in the American wilderness, the English settlers in Plymouth colony celebrated a Thanksgiving feast with the Native Americans who'd helped them survive. They thanked God for their successful harvest, and the freedoms and opportunities available in the new world. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, nearly 400 years later, when other new Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, they are still grateful for food, freedom and opportunity.
"Dear Lord, Thank you so much for bringing our family and friends together, so we all can share the happiness of this special night. We all thank you for bringing all the good days in the past. We're looking forward to having better future. Amen."
Chinese-American Wan-Lee remembers her first Thanksgiving, more than 15 years ago, as an amazing experience. She was an exchange student, and her American host family invited her to join their Thanksgiving dinner.
"I had never had any Thanksgiving before I came to America. So it was a very striking experience for me. First, everybody around the table hold hands. I had never been holding hands with a lot of so called foreigners, that time. They said prayers. It was a very warm feeling, when all the family came together. I was part of their family. To me, it was the first time I learned that Thanksgiving is about family."
The chance to get together with family and friends also appeals to Manal Ezat, a 40-year-old Egyptian-American.
"It's a good chance for us to get together and create our own second family away from our original families. And it's an opportunity of course to thank God for all the blessings he have provided us with here, in our homes and with our families."
Celebrating Thanksgiving is one of the American traditions Zeba Khadom says she adopted when she emigrated from Afghanistan more than 20 years ago.
"It means a lot to me because I was raised in a society which is very traditional, and in a family that believes in good traditions. Traditions make the society stronger. I like thanksgiving because this is the time that people can sit together and share ideas."
"Thank God so much. I'm grateful for your help and blessings. Thanks for helping me help others and share your blessings with others."
For Haitian-American Ronald Cesar, who came here two decades ago, going to church is an important part of Thanksgiving Day.
"We go to a church service on that day because this is one of the most cherished holidays for us, Haitian-Americans. Remember, we come from a troubled land. Haiti always has some kind of political problems, one after another. And here we are in this homeland, benefiting from all the freedoms this country has to offer, all the opportunities."
The traditional Thanksgiving dinner includes dishes like mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and, of course, the centerpiece, turkey… a menu that people of different ethnic backgrounds say is easy to cook and combine with recipes from their native cuisine.
"Usually we cook turkey. I prepare it the American way. The only thing I add is my own spice, the Haitian spice." "I like fish, shrimp or lobster on top of the traditional Thanksgiving menu." "I start with the turkey, the stuffing, and the trimmings and of course our basic rice dish that always has to be on the table." " I cook Afghani food like qabli palau, mantoo, sabze chalou, beside the turkey and other things."
There is something about Thanksgiving dinner that makes it appealing to people of all ethnic groups, according to chef and cooking instructor Jill Prescott.
"It's very adaptable because everybody, I think, loves poultry. Potatoes and poultry are very universal. People have their own adaptation of how to do the turkey and the stuffing is very universal as well. And it's that wonderful diversity about this country that allows us to have those extra wonderful recipes."
The ritual of eating together, chef Prescott says, just like saying prayers at Thanksgiving dinner, is an important expression of gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy the good harvest and the good company.