5 College Thanksgiving Traditions

Some campuses use the national holiday to promote school spirit, unity, and spirituality.

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Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate what people are thankful for: family, friends, and food. Colleges and universities have also joined in the festivities with campus traditions that bring communities together.

[See photos of schools with unique Thanksgiving traditions.]

While Thanksgiving is celebrated in different ways at various colleges, here are five schools that have created annual traditions for students.

1. Thanksgiving dinner: When people think of Thanksgiving, turkey and pumpkin pie may come to mind. At Ohio State University, the grocery list is long to accommodate the thousands of students, faculty, and staff who participate in the campus Thanksgiving dinner.

The annual event hosted 35 students during the inaugural dinner in 1991, says Maureen Miller, director of communications for OSU's Office of International Affairs. Last year, 1,800 people participated in the dinner, which included 120 turkeys, 1,026 pounds of sweet potatoes, and 180 pies.

The dinner is mainly attended by international students who are far from home, Miller says. "It's a way for them to come together and learn more about an American tradition, and enjoy the family we have here at Ohio State."

Shiyuan Tian, an OSU junior and student cochair of the event, says she didn't realize the magnitude of Thanksgiving when she first came to the United States from China, but that she enjoys spending the holiday with fellow students.

"When I [am] at the event, I am really happy," Tian says. "We always say that at … the event, we are all family."

[Find out what international students should know before studying in the U.S.]

2. Thanksgiving Day Match-up: Smith College in Massachusetts takes a personalized approach with students who remain on campus for Thanksgiving.

"Informally, it's always been a tradition that many international students are asked by their [American] roommates to go home with them for Thanksgiving," says Hrayr Tamzarian, associate dean of International Student Affairs at Smith. "But, as the number [of international students] increased, I started seeing more students staying on campus who didn't have those connections."

The Thanksgiving Day Match-up program, officially in its second year, asks faculty and staff to welcome international students into their homes. Tamzarian says it gives international students at Smith a chance to gain an understanding of the holiday.

"We try to explain to our students what Thanksgiving is," he notes. "[But] this is something they can't experience in a school setting."

The goal of the program is to help students and families gain a global understanding of one another and, Tamzarian says, it's had some success. "When families and the student do hit it off, there's continued friendship," he says. "It's not just a Thanksgiving meal, and that's what we're counting on."

[See the 10 universities with the most international students.]

3. Spiritual development: While Thanksgiving is a national holiday that isn't tied to a specific religion, Carnegie Mellon University uses this time of year to promote spirituality.

November is known as Spiritual Development Month at Carnegie Mellon, and it gives the school a "chance to highlight all the different faith traditions taking place on campus," says Kenneth Lawson, coordinator for spirituality and meaning-making programs at the university.

The capstone session of the month is the Thanksgiving Spirituality Dinner—held before the university's holiday break—which Lawson calls the "biggest event during Spirituality Month." In past years, the dinner has featured a video of students explaining what spirituality means to them, but, Lawson notes, the dinner is ultimately a time when students can reflect on and appreciate the diversity of faiths on campus with one another.

"It's a really nice thing because it is a place where they can all get together and just have Thanksgiving dinner," he says.

4. Turkey Trot: After eating a large Thanksgiving meal and the bodily fatigue begins to set in, the idea of running may not be universally embraced. Fortunately for students at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the school hosts a campus-wide Turkey Trot before the holiday.