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Culture and cuisine: Rice students celebrate Thanksgiving

Photo credit: Ben Firullo

By Lisa Shi     12/3/18 5:30pm

Tona Akerele, Ireland/Nigeria, Will Rice ’20

“[Thanksgiving] reminds people of why we should be thankful, because sometimes, people get lost in things happening in their lives instead of appreciating what we have,” Tona Akerele said.

Akerele was born in Ireland and lived there until she was 13, then lived in Nigeria for five years before coming to Rice. Having experienced two traditions and cultures, she has eaten a variety of holiday foods. 

“I don’t want to jump onto the bandwagon, but jollof rice in Nigeria is great. As regards Ireland, rice pudding is one of my favorite desserts,” she said.

Akerele spent Thanksgiving with her cousin and his wife, who live in Houston, she said. “My cousins still cook ethnic food so we had Nigerian fried rice, jollof rice, turkey, plantains, eggs and a cake.”

“I’m most thankful for just being alive,” she said.

Ben Firullo, London, England, Lovett ’22

Photo credit: Ben Firullo

Over Thanksgiving break, Ben Firullo went to New Orleans to visit his friend’s family. 

“I feel like [Thanksgiving] is one of the most American holidays, and it was great to spend time with an American family,” he said. “My friend’s family pulled out all the stops: all his family came over, and we had all the traditional foods and activities.”  

Firullo said he sees a lot of overlap between traditional American and English holiday foods, but of those unique to the U.K., mince pie is his favorite. 

“I’m thankful for being in the United States and being here for university. The US is where I’ve wanted to be for five years,” he said.

Priyansh Lunia, Bangkok, Thailand, Duncan ’21

Photo Credit: Priyansh Lunia

This year, Priyansh Lunia also decided to visit New Orleans with a few high school friends,  independent of Firullo. 

Last year, when he stayed on campus, the RAs at Duncan held a Thanksgiving meal. 

“Getting that homely vibe was really nice,” Lunia said. “Not that many people were left on campus, so it was like one mini but big family meal. It’s nice to see people spreading their love like that.” 

Lunia said Diwali was the closest thing to Thanksgiving he experienced growing up in an Indian household.

“The entire family gets together and celebrates this festival, and we’d have all home-cooked, traditional Indian meals, emphasizing that home-cooked aspect,” he said. 

Lunia has formed a tradition of going off campus with his friends during breaks. 

“One thing I enjoy doing when school’s off and I don’t have much work is going around and exploring Hermann Park and the museums around us,” Lunia said. “I feel like we don’t get off campus as much as we should, so my friends and I made it a mission to explore places around Houston.”

Lunia spoke of his gratefulness to his parents for working hard and raising him. 

“They’ve provided me with the opportunity to be able to come and study here – going abroad is a huge privilege and honor as it opens up a lot of doors,” he said.

Yilin Ren, Chongqing, China, Sid ’22

Photo Credit: Yilin Ren

Yilin Ren likens Thanksgiving to the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, which she celebrates in her hometown of Chongqing: both holidays are a time of homecoming. 

“Usually people go home only for the Spring Festival if they are away for school or work,” she said. 

Ren particularly enjoys the atmosphere created by the large gatherings characteristic of the holiday. “At home, there will be twelve or thirteen people who eat together, so there’s always a lot of food, including dumplings,” she said. 

This year, she went to one of her friend’s homes for Thanksgiving dinner. Ren said she is most thankful for her family and their decision to send them to attend school in the U.S., considering how far away it is.

Eva Lin, Taiwan, Hanszen ’19

Eva Lin went to her boyfriend’s dad’s home for Thanksgiving this year. 

“It’s the first year I experienced an actual Thanksgiving in a home,” she said. 

Like Ren, Lin says that back in Taiwan, Chun Jie, or the Spring Festival, is most similar to Thanksgiving. 

“It’s a little different because Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for everything you have, but Chun Jie is just celebrating the new year, though it also does incorporate a little bit of being grateful,” she said. 

She mentioned traditions such as always having fish on the table for New Year’s dinner, which represents fortune. Her favorite Chun Jie food is tang yuan, or glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste.

Lin has not established any traditions for Thanksgiving during her time at Rice, instead opting for something different every year. 

“Hanszen always has a Thanksgiving dinner before break starts,” she said. “It’s nice to be with friends when our families are far away. When I was on campus one year, Hanszen also had really good events for people who stay here for break.” 

Religion is extremely important to Lin; she was recently baptized. 

“I’ve just been really grateful for God’s guidance in the decisions I make, and also for my parents for sending me here to the US,” she said. 

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