From Zimbabwe to the United States – Thanksgiving — The North Star Reports – by Angel Nomthandazo Sibanda. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

From Zimbabwe to the United States – Thanksgiving — The North Star Reports – by Angel Nomthandazo Sibanda. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

1024px-Pumpkin-Pie-Slice[Photo credit: see — ]

Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin spice cakes. At first, to me this seemed to be all that Thanksgiving was about.

Should I have any feelings about it? Am I weird for seeing it as any other ordinary day, and an excuse for a longer and maybe “well-deserved” break from school? These were the questions running through my mind because at home in Zimbabwe, Africa, we do not celebrate Thanksgiving. I really didn’t know what Thanksgiving was until I came here. Seeing that no one explained it to me, I decided to look it up and this is what Google had to say to me about Thanksgiving: “the expression of gratitude, especially to God” and “(in North America) an annual national holiday marked by religious observances and a traditional meal including turkey.” Even with these definitions I still didn’t feel excited about it. I couldn’t think of anything special that I would have been doing at this time of the year had I been at home.

With about five days of no school, I had my break planned out: two days would be just for catching up on school work and getting started on a project that was due in two weeks. The remaining three days I set aside for a lot of catching up on sleep, those movies I have been meaning to watch, a Skype date with that friend I have been meaning to talk to in a while, and finally reading that novel that had been sitting on my dresser since the beginning of the semester. Then I got invited to Thanksgiving dinner by Charmaine.* I thought to myself that I could watch a full movie or two in the time it would take, but I thought why not go and see what everyone is excited about and experience something different.

Over twenty relatives were gathered at Charmaine’s place. There was cooking and trips down memory lane as embarrassing pictures from fifteen years ago were brought out. It was then that I realized that Thanksgiving did have significance to me. Maybe in a different way, but it did. It reminded me of home and the big family gatherings we have at my grandmother’s rural homestead. The timing might be different but they are family get-togethers nonetheless. For past gatherings, I always knew we had to be up at 5:00 a.m. and make sure we kept a pot of tea brewing at all times for that uncle who had to have a cup of tea every thirty minutes or else he would have a headache. Usually we had 30-plus people attending because for my family, a family gathering did not mean just my parents, siblings, and I– it meant my cousins and aunts, uncles and great great aunts, younger grandmothers and older grandmothers. Actually, anyone from the Sibanda clan was always invited. We usually had enough food to feed an army because a goat would be slaughtered, two chickens killed, and sadza (our staple food), rice, samp and a whole lot of different foods would be cooked. This was because it is normal for my relatives after the ceremony to leave with dishes of meat, rice, or sadza to eat when they returned home. Therefore we always made enough for people to carry with them if they wanted.

Sitting there at Charmaine’s I realized that Thanksgiving reminded me of appreciating family and getting together to keep that family bond together even though we did not see each other often. I smiled remembering that whenever we had a gathering I was bound to meet a new cousin that I did not know I had. Most importantly it was always fun to sit there and listen to how our family got to be where it is today as my grandfather would tell us about the family history. I realized that those gatherings were in a way thanksgiving to me because we got the chance to appreciate each other and “express gratitude.”

*not her real name

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

For all of the North Star Reports, see See also,

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

The North Star Reports will share essays from our student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports. The NSR is co-sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open-access policy. K-12 teachers, please contact the chief editor if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

31 responses to “From Zimbabwe to the United States – Thanksgiving — The North Star Reports – by Angel Nomthandazo Sibanda. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

    • Evangelista Chicheko

      I really like this article as it expresses my feelings and views i had about Thanksgiving. This is the exact way I felt when I came to the US in my freshman year. I am also from Zimbabwe so it was some culture shock for me as well. However, I am glad you figured out what Thanksgiving really is and had to actually spend it at someone’s place, which in my opinion, was a good way of getting to experience what Thanksgiving really is.

    • Josie Thao

      I pretty much have made Thanksgiving a significant holiday for me as the opportunity to be with extended family members, more so than a day to give thanks to God. I appreciate the message you took from this holiday and I can relate to your family gatherings, we all have that one relative.

  1. Chelsey L

    I really like how you made this article so different viewed. I like seeing that people from different places are able to experience the way us Americans do things especially thanksgiving since that is a time for family and of course turkey. It was very well done that you explained the way you and your family did gatherings and the food that you eat etc.

  2. Carley Henning

    I really enjoyed reading your blog! As Americans, we have our own traditions but it was great to hear about your traditions in Zimbabwe as well. Even though you may not celebrate Thanksgiving like Americans do, in a way you have family gatherings with a big supper which is like what a holiday in the U.S. would be like. Very cool to hear about what a traditional meal would be like when you have family gatherings.

  3. David Miller

    I myself living in the United States my entire life have always celebrated Thanksgiving with my family from the time i was born to this day. When i was younger I always wondered what it was really all about so you are not alone. I too came to the conclusion of family, and personally I came to realize how much my family meant to me.

  4. Kendra Johnson

    It’s refreshing to read an article like this and see that people do still care about Thanksgiving and what it truly means. It seems that lately, people tend to take Thanksgiving for granted and rush to Christmas. Some stores don’t even close on Thanksgiving so Black Friday shopping can be done earlier and earlier in the year. It’s good to take a day out of the year to reflect on what and who you have in your life and be grateful for it.

  5. Karn Pederstuen

    This article provided an interesting take on Thanksgiving from someone who did not grow up in the United States. Gathering with family, enjoying a large meal, and giving thanks are events that happen all around the world and are not always termed Thanksgiving. I wonder if the author also discovered that in the fall of 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Native Americans came together for a feast which is acknowledged as the first Thanksgiving.

  6. Kyle Hellmann

    Its really cool that a holiday that we celebrate here in the states can also have a meaning for you too! It’s always important to have a time of year to give thanks for what you have, and i’m glad that you were able to also have a time for thanks!

  7. Luke Scharrer

    That’s an awesome comparison, with “the expression of gratitude.” I have never looked at Thanksgiving so objectively before, either. It makes me realize how holidays may vary between nations, but people always love to spend time and share food with family and friends.

  8. Zach Friederichs

    As much as I enjoy Thanksgiving I hardly find myself thinking about its historical significance. Very much like yourself, I see it as a wonderful opportunity to escape classes and enjoy food that isn’t made from my own handiwork.

  9. Kyle Stepka

    I think it is crazy like what you guys have stated above that across the world people with different believes still celebrate things we do in the states. Also that across the world it still means the most important thing and that is family.

  10. Tommy Traaholt

    I’m very happy for you that you enjoyed Thanksgiving. Growing up Thanksgiving didn’t mean as much to me as it does now, but expressing thanks for everything is needed at least once a year. Great article!

  11. Daniela Rojas

    Coming from another country I totally understand what you feel. At first I did not know what I should expect from Thanksgiving, for me it only meant that I get a break from school, but after I had the opportunity to spend it with a friend it made me remember about my times at home with my family and what a really nice holiday it is.

  12. Ada

    I really enjoyed how you made connections with your experiences back home while celebrating a holiday in foreign country. The way in which you wrote it beautifully elaborates on what family and gratitude mean for so many.

  13. Alex Cole

    I guess I never realized that Thanksgiving is predominantly an American Holiday. Nevertheless, I think its awesome that you tried a new thing and had a wonderful experience doing so. It’s always fascinating to hear another culture’s take on our customs.

  14. Andy Lawrence

    I loved the comparison with how Thanksgiving is looked at amongst different countries. I knew that Thanksgiving was an American holiday but I thought it was celebrated everywhere. Even though it isn’t celebrated in some countries, the aspect of family is still there.

  15. Hannah Johnson

    I think this article shows a good example of many traditions around the world that are similar in ways but may not be the same. For her she never called it thanksgiving and it wasn’t at the same time but she still had gatherings with her family. It is cool to see how similar but different we are from all around the world.

  16. Austin Kindt

    As important as Thanksgiving is, I find more meaning with just being able to spend quality time with family and friends. Thank you for sharing your families tradition! Now you’ve peaked my interest in wanting to try Sadza!

  17. Tyler Winkelman

    I am really happy to hear that you enjoyed Thanksgiving! It was great that your friend invited you, because Thanksgiving is enjoying time with people that care about you. What a great friend!

  18. Morgan Young

    This is a great article! Too often I hear of how we are different, usually with a negative tone, but really we are quite similar! Our differences should be celebrated and I’m glad you found Thanksgiving to be a reminder of good memories.

  19. Bao Vang

    I love the part when you mentioned about making extra food so families can pack them to go home. In my culture, that’s the number one rule to keep in mind when hosting a party; always have extra food to be packed to go. It is a way for us to show appreciation towards our relatives for taking the time out of their day to attend the party. Besides that, I loved your story and hoped you had a great Thanksgiving!

  20. Donovan Chock

    I really appreciate your attitude and approach towards our “Thanksgiving.” For me, Thanksgiving is not much different than any other Sunday dinner at Grandmas (having a family like that is a privilege I’m deeply thankful for). So I think we’re similar in the sense that the big thanksgiving hype once a year is not that big of a deal because we already have special family gatherings like that. Now, we don’t always have so much food we could feed an army but that’t not what its about. It’s the comradery we are thankful for. Basically, when I’m home, thanksgiving for my family is a repeating occasion rather than an annual celebration.

  21. I completely relate to your story Angel, every sentence! Guess Zimbabwean experience is not that different after-all. And I also like how you related it to thanks giving. However, I am wondering if this same culture exists in countries like South Africa, and the other countries neighboring Zimbabwe.

  22. Camila Garcia

    Being an international student I understand somehow what you are saying. Sometime when we adapt to a new country and its culture is hard to see that there are more things that unite us than what separate us. Sometimes I feel this is hard to see because we might have certain stereotypes against what we do not know, or we are sometimes scared or simple we do not want to think of our box. But I have learned this last three years that we truly can not judge or understand another culture unless we try to understand and experience their customs and traditions.

  23. Mackenzie Sherrill

    This article was very heart-warming. It gives me hope that people are still able to open their mind to the traditions others in different cultures have on holidays that may be different from their own. I would love to travel some day to experience and observe said traditions that others have on holidays that I may not know even exist. Just as you found, what is celebrated on certain holidays in one place, may also be celebrated and cherished around the world on different holidays.

  24. Reading this article really made me think about all of the traditions and things that my family does for thanksgiving. Every family has lots of different ways to celebrate and come together. The most cherishing moments of your life are the ones spent with your loved ones.

  25. Emily Schiro

    This article helped me to remember why it is important to me why I celebrate Thanksgiving. I think sometimes we forget that it’s not all about the food and napping after the meal but about the family we get to spend time with. I’m glad the American tradition was able to remind you of the gatherings you have with your family. It’s always fun to remember those times.

  26. I think this article makes a good point, that people of different backgrounds can appreciate the same sort of holidays and traditions that they might not be familiar with firsthand. This goes to show humans can share a basic value system, despite being from different backgrounds. What have other holidays been like for you here? are you able to feel and experience something similar as you did during thanksgiving? Also do you know of anyone who has traveled to your country and has been able to experience the same sort of thing you have?

  27. Matt Breeze

    This is such a cool article, especially because thanksgiving is just around the corner again. The commonalities across cultures and countries never cease to amaze me. Thanksgiving is looked at, at least here, as a very American thing or invention, but the premise behind it is universal. Everybody gives thanks and gathers around with a large group of family, just not everyone does it in the end of November on a Thursday.

  28. Megan Gonrowski

    I love this piece because Thanksgiving just passed and I was ironically just talking about thanksgiving with an international student from Zimbabwe. He expressed to me the reality for many international students that stay on campus during breaks because it is not ideal for them to go home every time school takes a short break. I find it wonderful and heartwarming that you were invited to spend thanksgiving with someone else’s family to experience the holiday. However, I do feel bad that there isn’t a program to connect international students with local students to spend the holidays with if they so desire. Also, I find it interesting that google says thanksgiving is a religious holiday because I don’t personally see it that way. For me, its just about spending time with family and seeing the extended family that you don’t see as often. Historically, I’m pretty sure I learned as a kid that thanksgiving is modeled off the pilgrims dining with the Native Americans. It probably also has to do with celebrating the yearly harvest and our transition into winter. It is strange how holiday’s meaning can change over time.

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