Building Community: Our Vietnamese Thanksgiving

The holidays are always a time of heightened emotions. We didn’t know how we would feel during our first major holiday away from home. In the end, it is hard to imagine a Thanksgiving weekend that could have brought us more joy. Instead of a single celebration, we were able to celebrate the holiday three different times in very different ways.

School-Wide Celebration

What happens when hundreds of students (primarily from various countries in Asia) are combined with an American school staffed with  American teachers to celebrate a very-American holiday? A bit to my surprise, a wonderful afternoon. St. Paul American School held school on Thursday, but no classes. Students spent time in their advisory (homeroom), participated in a school-wide 5k Turkey Trot, and then held a huge potluck meal.

I don’t spend much time at the school, but I was invited to join in the celebration. The front yard of the school was filled with banquet tables when I arrived. Dozens of parents spent hours putting out food for 1000 people! Have you ever seen Thanksgiving for 1000? It is impressive. Before we ate, a student from every grade and a handful of staff shared what they were thankful for. It has been many years since I have celebrated Thanksgiving with young children. It was wonderful.

Yet, neither the food nor the children were the star of the event. That prize goes to the two live turkeys that spent their week at the school. They handled the poking and prodding of children well and were rewarded with a Principal-pardon just before we ate.  Although few members of the St. Paul community traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving, all embraced the idea of being in fellowship with one another.


We decided to have a traditional Thanksgiving feast with the families of three teachers at St. Paul on Friday. Unsure of how to cook a turkey in our small ovens, we decided to order the bird and gravy from a local deli. We all shared the responsibility of making our family favorites.

We enjoyed eating: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls, pumpkin soup, roasted veggies, coleslaw, cranberry sauce (whole berry and jellied), pumpkin pie, dutch apple pie, and apple pie.

After we feasted, we gathered to play games. The baby at our celebration amused us as she used whipped cream as face lotion. It was heartwarming to spend time with our friends and their kids.


Lế Tạ Ơn

Several weeks ago David and I decided that in addition to celebrating with our American friends, we also wanted to welcome people into our home that do not celebrate Thanksgiving. We invited three Vietnamese friends and their families to join us. We also asked a New Zealand friend and one other American. David prepared an invitation in Vietnamese (before we knew the correct name was Lế Tạ Ơn).

I was nervous before the party started. Would people enjoy our food? Would they actually show up? In the end, we had a wonderful afternoon with 6 friends. My Vietnamese teacher came with her husband Thành and adorable baby Trung. Trung, who is affectionately known as Bánh Mì, provided much of the entertainment. He is a fan of cats and enjoyed our stuffed versions of Ellie and Sequoia, running across the room and give them a kiss. He also did a lot of dancing for us!

We feasted on:

  • Chicken
  • Gravy
  • Stuffing
  • Potato salad
  • Deviled eggs
  • Squash with green beans
  • Cranberry sauce (whole and jellied)
  • Rolls
  • Apple cake
  • Pumpkin pie

While we were eating David gave a summary of Thanksgiving in Vietnamese. “Lế Tạ Ơn là ngày nghỉ ở Mỹ. Lế Tạ Ơn là Thứ 5 tư cửa tháng 11. Vào Lế Tạ Ơn người Mỹ ăn nhiều đồ ăn với gia đình. Lế Tạ Ơn đã bắt đầu khoảng năm một nghìn bảy trăm trước, khi người Châu Au đến Bắc Mỹ. Họ cảm ơn vì có cuộc sống mới. Bây giờ Lế Tạ Ơn rất khác so với năm một nghín bảy trăm. Người Mỹ thăm gia đình, ăn gà tây, và xem bóng bầu duc. Ngày sau Lế Tạ Ơn là thứ 6 đen. Nhiều người đi mua quà Giáng Sinh.”

One feeling is universal after a Thanksgiving feast – fullness. Even little Bánh Mì was saying he was “no (meaning full)”. Many of our friends stayed and played a game with us after the meal, another tradition important to both of us. After we saved the Iberian peninsula in Pandemic Iberia, we began the process of decorating for Christmas. David’s Vietnamese teacher helped him hang a wreath on our apartment door – her first time ever decorating for the holiday.

Our Community

Thanksgiving has been difficult the last few years. My mother’s absence has hovered over the feast and weighed down on me even as I dined with my in-laws. While I missed her and my family this year, I also felt a bit of relief from that grief. This weekend I felt the magic of a created community wrapping its arms around us in a warm, poultry-filled hug.

This year I am thankful for Hà Nội!!!

One Reply to “Building Community: Our Vietnamese Thanksgiving”

  1. Sounds like an amazing Thanksgiving! So glad for you that the change of country and culture eased the holiday grief for you. We had a wonderful family, friend, food fillled weekend as well. Love you two!!

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