Former Wall Street Journal editor and ABF board director Melanie Kirkpatrick opens her book on Thanksgiving with a visit to a New York high school for newly arrived Americans. Newcomers High School, in Queens, welcomes students from as far away as Chile, Bosnia, and Bangladesh, helping them adapt to their new country.
Ms. Kirkpatrick was in for a surprise on that trip to Newcomers High: although the students’ English was faltering, they were fluent in all things Thanksgiving. Most were yet to partake in their first end-of-November festivities, but all looked forward to celebrating the holiday “at the heart of the American experience.”
Although its deep connection with the country’s founding makes it a uniquely American celebration, no other holiday is as welcoming of new arrivals and guests as Thanksgiving. For one, the Pilgrims’ story that gave rise to the modern celebration of Thanksgiving is the story of anyone who has had to leave their home behind in pursuit of better fortunes. Or so the students at Newcomers High told Ms. Kirkpatrick, enthusiastically claiming the holiday as their own.
Therein lies only part of the holiday’s appeal, however. Its real superpower is in its ability to unite people of different backgrounds, faiths, and persuasions. After all, what is now considered the First Thanksgiving in 1621 brought together European settlers and native Americans for a feast celebrating the bountiful crop that would ensure their continued survival. Subsequent Thanksgivings accommodated the country’s expansion and the increasing diversity of its people.
There truly is a place for everyone at the Thanksgiving table, as can be attested by many of us non-Americans at the America for Bulgaria Foundation who have lived in the United States. It is an unspoken rule of American hospitality that no one should be alone or hungry on Thanksgiving. And this doesn’t extend only to international guests. More Americans volunteer to help their fellow citizens around Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year. Moreover, charitable drives and giving peak toward the end of November, a tradition that has gone global through movements such as #GivingTuesday (for more on that subject, see “An American Holiday Sparks Global Giving Movement”).
Another Thanksgiving tradition that is catching on is the practice of counting your blessings. It is the custom of pausing to consider the good things that happen to us and the people who enrich our lives. This is particularly important in trying times: it reminds us that life is good and worth living and that better times are waiting around the corner. Science has weighed in as well: receiving and giving thanks stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin, the happy hormones, warding off sadness and depression.
We at ABF will not be coming together physically on Thanksgiving this year as we have done on previous occasions, but we are uniting in our efforts to fight this unprecedented challenge we are facing. The Foundation has pledged additional resources in support of Bulgarian medics by launching #HealingTogether, a joint initiative with the US Embassy in Bulgaria.
This comes on the heels of its donation of 300,000 levs to two of Bulgaria’s leading national hospitals in the spring and its leadership role in the United against Covid-19 Fund in support of local communities affected by the pandemic. The Fund united the efforts of 44 corporate and individual donors who raised more than 1 million levs, reaching nearly 700,000 people.
Tonight, ABF team members are all tuning in to our team chat on Zoom to share in our good fortune of being healthy and well, of living in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and, most importantly, of being in a position to help.
Together we will heal.