Explaining Thanksgiving

My classmates and I went to a school on the outskirts of the city to teach a class of elementary school kids English. The trip was organized by our school, and we had Chinese students accompany each of us. My teaching buddy asked me “what is special about the US that we could teach them”? and I thought about a comment which a German classmate had made – that in the US we have a holiday for everything. She meant National Pancake Day, Bikini Day, Opposite Day, and so on. I decided to teach the young’ins about Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Pancake Day.

They were not what I was expecting. They were loud, and energetic, and happy and jumping around. I thought they would be shy, or I would be talking to myself the whole time. But they were engaged – and they knew English really well! I think they had just learned fruit vocabulary because they kept using fruit words, but that worked out well because we were talking about food (they looooved pancake day. We built a pancake with milk and oranges and stinky fruit and apples and, and, and!).

One really sweet moment was when I was going around asking them what they like to do. One little boy said he liked to sing, and I asked him to sing for me. Which he did! And the whole class joined in. Apparently it’s a famous song called “Gan en de Xin (the Grateful Heart)” and my teaching buddy said it’s a song about having friends and keeping their hearts close (I’ve looked up the lyrics and it seems a little more ambiguous than that, anyway, it was cute).

Explaining Christmas wasn’t too bad because I just left the religious stuff out. Everyone understands getting presents. But just try to explain Thanksgiving! I completely took for granted basic history knowledge of the US. I said, “Thanksgiving is a big feast we have every year with our families! We do it because the, uh, pilgrims, the people who came from England to move to the US . . . and then they met natives . . . well anyway, and then they ate a lot of food.”

Even though I disagree with the simple story of “and then everyone was friends” I suddenly completely understand why, in first grade, our teachers put us in pilgrim and “Indian” hats and feed us. I still think teaching the rest of the story (subjugation and killing of natives) is important, but I get the simplicity now. I definitely wasn’t about to go into in front of a bunch of young Chinese students.

All in all though it was such a fun experience. Exhausting, but fun, and I’m glad I had it.


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