Thanksgiving Series: An Immigrant Mom’s Take on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Series: An Immigrant Mom's Take on Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we asked several of our writers to tell us about their favorite Thanksgiving traditions and stories. Whether a quiet affair at home, or a boisterous congregation of friends and extended family, the richness of gathering with loved ones unites us all in this harvest season.

I came to the United States in 1999 and at that time I was barely an adult. I learned very fast that navigating life in a new country is challenging. And although I am not sure I knew what I was doing most of the time, I navigated – or I should say stumbled – through this new life I found myself living in.

Those early years living here are a blur, a good blur, but none the less a blur. Since meeting my girlfriend, now wife, and welcoming our daughters into the world, everything changed.  I hear you saying, ‘Well of course they did,’ but I am referring to so much more than just having children.

As an immigrant I have no reference point for which to base family celebrations around American holidays. I know how we celebrated holidays in South Africa, I know what was important to our family as I grew up, however, I am married to an American and as such I’m the only fully South African in our family of 4. With that in mind, I want to create special memories for our daughters like I have from growing up in another country while also embracing the traditions of my new home. I want them to learn the wonders of time spent with family, both immediate and extended, cherishing the memories. And perhaps one day extend some of those to their own families.

Thanksgiving Series: An Immigrant Mom's Take on Thanksgiving

In order to share some of the special memories I have from childhood while still creating our own family traditions in our American lives, I am (willingly) forced to accept that I am in fact new to this country and as the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.  I do not, and I will not, forget where I come from, where most of my family still lives. Yet, I will do what I can to incorporate what made my holidays special back home while at the same time welcoming new American traditions.

To do this, we will wake up on Thanksgiving morning and we will get ready to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. We’ll excitedly cheer for Santa as he wraps up the parade with a wave and then we’ll welcome family into our home. We’ll catch up, the kids will run around like crazy, we’ll eat food which includes a couple of South African dishes and African placemats, as my way of contributing a new dynamic to an otherwise fully American family.  Then we’ll watch football, the kids will still be running around, playing, likely arguing, then playing some more.

Thanksgiving Series: An Immigrant Mom's Take on Thanksgiving

Without a lot of effort, we will be creating all the special family moments and memories for my daughters that I so greatly cherish. Granted it won’t be on African soil, and we’ll likely have to bundle up if we go outside, but none of that takes from the fact that we’ll appreciate what we do have. We’ll miss the family we don’t see as often as we wish we did and at the end of the day another holiday will pass. I will have eaten too much food and simply soak up all the love that surrounds me and my little family on this Thanksgiving, and all the holidays to come.

While this is my story as an immigrant mom, it is not everyone’s story. All immigrants have different stories to tell, their family structures as varied as their journeys. Perhaps, unlike me, both parents are immigrants raising their children in a country that is foreign to them, and I encourage you to seek out others who are different than yourself and learn more about them. Welcome them into their new country and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll both learn.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Read more from our 2019 Thanksgiving Series here, here and here!

Debbie McLoughlin
Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Debbie moved to St Paul, MN to attend the College of St Catherine a ‘few’ years ago. After graduation Debbie remained in the Twin Cities and pursued a CPA license and MBA degree. An accountant by day and (self-proclaimed) kick ass mom and wife ALL the time. Debbie now lives in Woodbury, MN with her amazing wife and almost 4 year old daughter. Hockey was Debbie’s first passion in life, until having her daughter 4 years ago, now she focuses on her daughter, her wife, her job, her blog and she still plays hockey as much as possible. Debbie and her wife are extremely passionate about equality for all and strive to share their two mom family with all, in an effort to educate others that families come in all forms. Debbie blogs over at Africa’s Blog ( and has a social presence on Facebook (, Twitter ( & Instagram (


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