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05th December 2020 Sophia Clement (2020, Williams)

Celebrating Thanksgiving 2020 in Oxford

Being away from home can be difficult as a student, especially so during the current pandemic, but Exeter College and its students continue to create a warm, welcoming and supportive environment. Sophia Clement, a visiting student from Williams College, Massachusetts, reports on her first Thanksgiving away from home.

This year, I celebrated Thanksgiving away from home for the first time in my life. I’m an American student studying abroad through the Williams-Exeter Program in Oxford this year. Though Thanksgiving looked different for 2020, my family and friends embodied the heart of the holiday for me.

On a normal Thanksgiving, I usually sleep in, since I have the day off school, and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television once I wake up. The smell of food increasingly fills the air as we prepare the early evening’s meal. My parents, brother, and I go to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving, arriving late every single year. It’s usually because we dress up for pictures in nice clothes only the dining room and living room will see.

We read Spanish prayer cards and light a candle to show our well wishes for those not as fortunate this holiday season. Name cards fill each plate at the table with the prompt “I’m grateful for…”, remnants of a childhood tradition yours truly established. We go around reflecting on the year, our health, and our loved ones. Finally, we feast on a mix of traditional American Thanksgiving food and Puerto Rican cuisine until thoroughly full. We take a break only to digest before indulging in pumpkin pie and apple pie for dessert. The rest of the night is spent in each other’s company, just as we like it.

My Thanksgiving Day 2020 went a bit differently. Instead of a day off, I woke up for an early jog with my friend and took my semi-weekly COVID-19 test. After hours of working on my History paper, I attended my virtual English tutorial. This tutor is also American, and we reflected on being away for the holidays this year before launching into our discussion on Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night. Finally finished with work, I quickly put on a nice blouse and jeans to join my housemates for Thanksgiving dinner provided by Exeter. Opening remarks from our program director and the Rector reminded me of what I was thankful for in this pandemic: being here with supportive friends for the opportunity of a lifetime. The next day, the Williams students celebrated Friendsgiving, a potluck similar to Thanksgiving but with friends rather than family. We delivered dishes to each other’s houses, enjoying this feast we had made though we couldn’t physically congregate.

Thanksgiving, for me, is about taking time to enjoy the company of my loved ones and do one of the best activities I can think of, share food. My housemates were there to lift my spirits after the stressful and homesick week I had, and I got to call my family all assembled at home in their Thanksgiving best. I needed their support more than ever this year, and I’m grateful that I could find it both in New Jersey and Oxford. There is no Thanksgiving like one spent at home, but the people I spend it with can really make the difference.

Students making food for Friendsgiving

Preparing food for “Friendsgiving” together

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