My First Halloween & Thanksgiving As An Immigrant in the US

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I was introduced to American culture by the tv shows I watched. When the school year began in September, all these channels from overseas would change their thematics. I saw that the orange color simulating Autumn’s falling leaves instantly replaced the “summer” theme used in shows during school vacation. I didn’t relate and understand this change because the weather and trees in the Dominican Republic stay the same year-round.

Fast forward October and the Halloween theme ran rampant on tv. Only Halloween movies and show episodes are aired. I skipped the scary segments and movies because I got easily scared, but the free candy component of this festivity kept me wanting that such holiday was celebrated on the tropical island. This holiday which is called, El Dia de Las Brujas in Spanish, is frowned upon by many Dominicans because they think it’s a satanic holiday.

Once Halloween passes all the American shows centered on Thanksgiving: another festivity that, just like Halloween, has become a staple mark of fall weather. The symbol of the turkey seems to be there but not as aggressive like Halloween’s witches and pumpkins.

Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey on rustic wooden table

Alexander Raths/Shutterstock

My only question was: why are those holidays not celebrated in my country? There’s a lot of hype around them. I wish I could experience them.

In 2011 I moved to the United States to finish my studies. I was fifteen. Not much of a culture shock when I got here since I lived in a neighborhood where there’s a lot of Dominicans and the weather was hot. But September came around bringing chilly weather and the start of the school year. Now I was experiencing what it is to be in a foreign land.

When October came, I realized that I was going to experience for the first time that I only witnessed on TV: Halloween. I remember my little cousins getting all hyped up about Halloween while my older cousins were not as much. Since I fell into the category of “older cousin,” I decided to go along with my age cohort and just watch horror movies.

I watched how my younger cousins got dressed as bees to trick-or-treat around the neighborhood. Their costumes looked so wimpy and not appropriate for the weather, but they still embraced the cold and went out for candies. That’s when I realized that I won’t be able to take part of that holiday because it was too cold for me to go out without a coat and boots. In my mind, I was like “these kids are crazy.” I still enjoyed the free candy which was the only point of Halloween to me.

Kids dressed up as superheroes

In November came Thanksgiving which I participated in but felt no connection in doing so. Everyone in my family and school was freaking out about this holiday. My family started brainstorming all the dishes they were going to cook way in advanced, and well, the final menu was long. Never had I seen so much food on a table, not even during Christmas time on the island.

The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving consisted of classmates excited to eat until they passed out. I laughed with them and was waiting to see how amazing this holiday is because it involved food. But I felt lost towards the meaning of this holiday. Yes, Thanksgiving is a religious holiday celebrated worldwide, but in the US is completely different. In the Dominican Republic, the really religious go to church and that’s it. I never went to a Thanksgiving Mass on the island and a lot of people did the same. It was just a regular day. Kids went to school, adults went to work.

But in my first Thanksgiving in the US, I had to go to church and eat a lot of food. I just did it out of respect, but I didn’t really care. The history behind it, which wasn’t clearly explained to me, is not part of my heritage hence why I didn’t feel a reason to celebrate it.

These two holidays opened my eyes and made me realized how people can adopt other people’s cultures so easily. Some may call it cultural appropriation, but I think that’s just what it means to be human. It is inevitable for a group of people who have shared an amount of time with another group to not adopt certain customs or beliefs from each other. And that’s clearly what happened with me and everyone who has moved to the US or anywhere else. As soon as you step in another country, you are experiencing a new way of living that needs to be respected whether you believe on what they do or not.

Now that I have gone through many Halloweens and Thanksgivings, I wish I could tell younger me that you’ll experience these festivities but, it will be too cold for you to want to come out on a costume on Halloween, and that the history behind Thanksgiving could make you feel wrong for celebrating the holiday but if you just think about the food and that you will have that day off from school, and luckily, from work, everything will be fine.

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