For many families, tradition dictates the holiday seasons. Whether it’s the breaking of the wishbone, cooking a special family recipe or cheering for favorite football teams, Thanksgiving traditions tend to make the holidays feel cozier, maintaining an air of familiarity in the festivities. Associate Professor of Anthropology Farha Ghannam has developed her own tradition for the Thanksgiving holiday: inviting Swarthmore students far from their families into her home for dinner.
While some Swarthmore students can traverse the country to spend time with their families over the Thanksgiving holiday, others, separated by hundreds of miles from their relatives, have no way of going home. Ghannam found herself in a similar position as these students in her first few years in the United States; originally from Jordan, she couldn’t spend the holiday with family. She and her husband, who came to the United States from Sweden, began opening their home to Swarthmore students six or seven years ago, after their daughter, Lena, was born. “I think it’s a really nice holiday in the United States that celebrates the good things about life, and it became particularly important for us when we had our child,” Ghannam said.
Lena, now 10, served as a motivating factor behind this year’s Thanksgiving dinner at the Ghannam household. Professor Ghannam, busy with conferences in Canada and D.C. in the weeks surrounding the holiday, said her daughter insisted on the gathering, while she tried to find a way out of what has become an annual tradition. “Lena said, ‘We have to have Thanksgiving!’ Last year, we didn’t [have dinner with Swarthmore students] because I was on sabbatical, so I had no way of inviting students. We went to a friend’s house instead, but Lena really loves the Swarthmore students.”
Much of the company at this year’s dinner was comprised of international students; for two, it was their first Thanksgiving. Sabrina Singh ’15, who is from Nepal, enjoyed her first experience with the American holiday. “Honestly, I was more homesick over fall break. We don’t have the holiday in Nepal, so I called and talked to my parents about it, but they didn’t know what it was — it isn’t a part of our culture,” Singh said.
The mood around the dinner table this year was far from academic, as guests shared what they were thankful for, discussed different elements of their own cultures, and played charades. “We laughed a lot, which I think is good. It’s important not to be serious all the time,” Ghannam said.
While options to dine with professors appealed to some students, others opted to spend the holiday with friends’ families in the area. Senior Margaret Lenfest, who lives 40 minutes outside of Swarthmore, has hosted friends for the past two Thanksgivings. “It’s way more fun to have friends come home, because they’re my favorite people. So I get to eat good food, be with my family, and be with my favorite people from Swarthmore,” Lenfest said.
Additional mouths to feed don’t seem to faze hosts, who often put the extra hands to use. Students arrived early to help Professor Ghannam prepare some of the side dishes, and Lenfest’s guests contributed to a potluck dessert. Here at Swarthmore, Sharples staff came together to provide students who remained on campus during the break with a special Thanksgiving feast. Beginning preparations at nine in the morning, kitchen staff worked to cook a traditional dinner with turkey and ham, as well as customary side dishes and options for vegans and vegetarians.
In addition to providing students with a specially cooked meal, Sharples staff also set the tables before opening the doors, offering a welcome departure from the typical meal trays.
Along with the approximately 130 students who attended the dinner at Sharples were members of Public Safety, who joined in the celebration. Following dinner, students were offered hoagies for later in the day, should they work up an appetite before bedtime. Many of the students attending the dinner were international, according to Sharples staff, and were greatly impressed by the spread offered at the buffet-style meal. Said Dining Services’ Don Thomas, “You should have seen their faces!”
The variety of options open to students far from home helped ensure good company, good food, and a restful break for all on campus as finals week approaches. It’s a testament to the Swarthmore community that regardless of how far from home you are, doors — and tables — are always open to you.