Tastes of the melting pot: Cultural holiday traditions

Kerry Ann Kester

Nearly everyone who lives in America observes Thanksgiving. Almost four centuries ago, in 1621, pilgrims in Plymouth, Mass. celebrated their first bountiful harvest together with American Indians, who taught the settlers to master farming tactics to survive their first year in a new world.

Since the first Thanksgiving, the tradition of giving thanks has become a national holiday. Students all over the country rejoice as they enjoy the coveted long weekend. A vast number of workers receive the day off from various duties. Some of the only professionals operating in full swing, seemingly, are players in the National Football League and those in charge of Thanksgiving parades.

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times of the year on the highways and skyways. Families pile into cars and planes to visit relatives and friends and reconnect with roots that oftentimes feel distant or lost. People across the country come together at the dining table, loosening their belt buckles after forcing down that last spoonful of mashed potatoes or extra piece of pie.

Thanksgiving is celebrated across the United States, from California to New York, from cities to farms, from slums to mansions. America, once said to be a melting pot, these days is described as more of a tossed salad. The so-called lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers of this salad are different ethnicities, each possessing a distinct flavor that contributes to the wholeness of America. Something would be lost if their cultural roots were ignored.

These roots contribute something distinct to national events, even to one of the most traditional American holidays, Thanksgiving.

So, how exactly do different cultures give this American holiday an ethnic twist? Those with a German background might recall the old days, when mother baked turkey so long that it was nearly void of all its juices. It was filled with “filsen,” a stuffing of sweetbread, cinnamon, sugar and raisins. And for dessert, instead of the classic pumpkin pie, appeared Apple Kuchen, German cake.

Some Villanova students explained their families’ versions of the holiday. In the Irish heritage, “there’s basically a lot of beer,” said Patrick Thornton. “And, instead of turkey, we serve ham.”

At Italian tables, there is “turkey at Thanksgiving, but veal and lasagna are there too,” said Danny Socci.

Renee Tomazic, who is of Polish descent, said, “One of the things my family eats is called a kielbase. I couldn’t even tell you what’s in it”.

Catherine Peterman, of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, said in her family, Thanksgiving is about making potato stuffing just right. “It has to be made a certain way or its awful,” Peterman says. “My mom’s was the greatest — no one can seem to duplicate it.”

Whatever the culture, no one meal or Thanksgiving tradition is exactly the same. In the spirit of the day, shows thanks for your individuality and maybe even try a different culture’s special dish this year!