What international athletes think of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a classic American tradition and a staple to the holiday season, but to students who come from outside of the U.S., our turkey-obsessed day of feasting is a foreign concept.

Georgia State has several athletes that were recruited from overseas, and for some, this year will be their first Thanksgiving in America.

Several countries have some sort of harvest celebration where they demonstrate gratitude for the year’s fortune. Some were inspired by the American holiday, while others predate the meal on Plymouth Rock by thousands of years.

Diego Padilha is a freshman men’s tennis player from Brazil. He has never seen an American Thanksgiving before.

Brazil’s rendition of Thanksgiving, Dia de Ação de Graças, was inspired by a Brazilian ambassador who suggested the national holiday to then-president Eurico Gaspar Dutra in 1949 after living in Washington, D.C. and witnessing how Americans celebrated.

“Brazilians celebrate this day by thanking God for the good things (good harvest) that happened during the year,” Padilha said. “[It usually] is celebrated the fourth Friday of November, where people give thanks by getting reunited with the family and praying.”

Some international students learn about Thanksgiving as a part of the “Holidays” chapter in their English class. Many don’t fully understand the importance of the holiday and how much it means to American families until they arrive.

“I learned about Thanksgiving in my English class in high school so I already knew some facts about this holiday before coming to the United States,” Lotte Meyberg, a junior cross country runner from Germany, said. “Our teacher explained to us that the pilgrims celebrated the first successful harvest with the Native Americans.

After two Thanksgivings in the states, Meyberg has gained more of an understanding of what it means to Americans.

“I have a different view on the holiday now,” Meyberg said. “Thanksgiving is a much more popular holiday for American families than I expected it to be. The preparation in the weeks before seem to be just as important as the ones for Christmas, if not even more important. Now, I view Thanksgiving as a holiday that focuses on family gatherings, spending time with people we care about, and enjoying the typical Thanksgiving dinner.”

The most comparable holiday in Germany would be their fall harvest festival Erntedankfest. Some historians trace its celebration back thousands of years, long before pilgrims landed in America. However, it is not a “German Thanksgiving” and there are stark differences between the two.

“The ‘Erntedankfest’ in Germany is a religious celebration,” she said. “Christians express their gratefulness for the food that God has provided for them. There is the same component of being thankful as for the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., but it is celebrated earlier in the fall and only by members of the church.”

Lotte Meyberg – German Cross Country Runner

Have you tried traditional Thanksgiving foods?

“No, I actually have not. Last year was my first Thanksgiving that I spent in the U.S, and some teammates and I visited Chicago. Since we did not really plan ahead to eat traditional foods, we ended up in the only open restaurant: a small local diner. I remember I had the best omelette with sweet-potato hashbrowns of my life that day. And since I could eat omelette any time of the day, every day, I was really happy with our not so traditional Thanksgiving dining experience.”

How are you going to spend Thanksgiving this year?

“Last year I visited Chicago with two of my teammates and we had a great time exploring the city on the holiday. We signed up for the turkey trot and ran the 5km race together which was an awesome experience. A lot of people were dressed up as turkeys or something else funny and the winners received pies as a price gift. This year, although not traveling, I will be running a 5km race again, this time in Atlanta. I don’t think that I will be cooking turkey this year either, but if I feel like eating omelette again, that might do it.”

What are you most thankful for?

“That’s a tough question! There are a lot of things in my life that make me very happy and that I cannot imagine to live without. I think I am the most thankful for the love and support that I receive from my family and friends. I would not be pursuing my dreams and believe in myself they way I do now if it was not for the people that encourage me to do so.”

Oliver Holdenson – Australian Punter for Georgia State Football

Did you know about Thanksgiving before you came to the US?

“Yeah I knew about it, just based mostly off television and movies and stuff. I didn’t really know what it was about. I just knew that they would get together and eat a lot of food, which is always good. I still don’t know too much about it, but I know it’s a long time tradition about pagans and the indians maybe? And people just get together and celebrate family, friends, what their thankful for. And football. Football’s a big part of it.”

How did you celebrate last year?

Last year, Barry Brown, the kicker, his mom came over. We couldn’t really go home because we had a game so she came over and cooked us all food, lovely food, and we watched some football. And then I took a nap because I was so full. That’s part of it too.

What did you think about the Thanksgiving food?

I liked it, it’s a good range of food. I’ve never had pumpkin pie, it kind of looks gross. It looks gross, but I’m willing to try it. But the turkey is good, all that stuff, the stuffing, the mac and cheese.

So what’s your favorite part?

Probably the turkey. I’m a big meat guy, so. But everything is good. Everyone brings something to the table and it all tastes good.

Is there any similar holiday in Australia?

Not really at all, to be honest. The way I see it is that when Thanksgiving happens you know that Christmas is about to be around the corner, but we don’t even have that so Christmas just comes. There’s no warm up. There’s no warm up with Thanksgiving to Christmas.

How will you celebrate this year?

Same as last year, Barry’s mom is coming over to the house, she’s cooking. We’re going to help out a little bit. And a bunch of teammates will be there that are from out of state and also my family will be here so they’ll be coming by. They’ll be here on Thursday and they’ll get to meet everyone. And then we’ll beat Southern, that’ll be the second part of Thanksgiving.

What are you most thankful for?

I’m most Thankful for the opportunity that I’ve been given here, all the people I’ve met, the networking that I’ve made. I just love it all.