Thanksgiving Reflections from France

Thanksgiving flashcards I used in my classes

This week in all my classes here in France, I am teaching my students about Thanksgiving. I talk about the history of the first Thanksgiving (I leave out the bit about the pilgrims later killing the Indians-they’re ESL students ages 6-11 so it’s a bit difficult) and I explain how and why we still celebrate Thanksgiving today.

I tell them how all over the United States, families and friends gather to have a meal together, and I teach them the traditional Thanksgiving foods: turkey, cranberries, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc. I explain why it’s called Thanksgiving—because we give thanks. Then I have them do an activity where they have to write a few things for which they are thankful.

And this is where my students look at me with a blank stare. I explain again (in French and in English) that we are going to write a few things that we have that we really appreciate, for which we are grateful.

One child asks, “Like a list for Papa Noel?”

“No, not a list of things you want, a list of things you already have that make you happy.”

I make a list on the board to help them, of ideas they can use. I say, “Maybe you are thankful for family, or friends, or your house, or your pets.”

After a while they start to catch on, but it surprises me how difficult this concept is for them. I thought it would be simple, that would all immediately come up with family, friends, toys. I wonder, is it just a difference in cultures? A language barrier? Or are all children like this these days?

It makes me a little sad that the notion of being thankful is difficult. I know that all of the students in my school are quite privileged, and have everything that they need and more. I think it’s so important that we teach children about the importance of being thankful and to appreciate what they have.

As I think about all of this, I have a newfound appreciation for the holiday of Thanksgiving. I think it’s wonderful that there exists a day dedicated to being thankful. Never mind that the other 364 days a year people may forget about this; at least there is one day where people come together to give thanks and truly appreciate all of the things and people they are so fortunate to have in their lives.

So for everyone back home in the US, or those of you celebrating Thanksgiving abroad (like me), please don’t forget the true meaning of this great holiday. As for me, this year, I am thankful for Thanksgiving.

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