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Multicultural Thanksgiving Traditions: How Californians Celebrate This Holiday
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Multicultural Thanksgiving Traditions: How Californians Celebrate This Holiday

In a diverse state like California, many families have Thanksgiving food traditions that reflect their heritage. Here are a few to try.

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2 min read

November 26, 2020

Freshly baked cheese pies; rice with sour cherries (albaloo polo); oven-roasted turkey—these are just a few of the things that remind me of Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving menu is a crystal-clear reflection of the cultural duality found in my family. As an Armenian born and raised in the Greater Detroit area, I grew up in a world where both cultures coexisted peacefully in my life. Celebrating Thanksgiving is the perfect example of this cultural coexistence. Every two years, my mom's side from L.A. flies in for a weeklong extravaganza.

Although my family is culturally Armenian, our family spent centuries living on the lands that are currently found in Iran; therefore, we have unique Thanksgiving traditions. Our Thanksgiving meals are an amalgamation of all three cultures: appetizers, dinner, and dessert are a mix of Armenian, Persian, and American cuisine. We feast on lahmajun (Armenian pizzas), mast o-khiar (yogurt with cucumber), and hummus for mezzeh (appetizers).

For dinner, we combine many of the Thanksgiving classic dishes from America with our favorite cultural foods. Bread stuffing, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, cranberry sauce, two types of fruit-infused Persian rice (albaloo and shirin polo), fesenjoon (a delicious Persian stew made with pomegranate), and barg (beef tenderloin prepared Persian style) are just several of the cross-cultural dishes served. Dessert is all about the pies—from pumpkin and apple pie to strawberry rhubarb and a seven-layer fall pie—ice creams, brownies, pakhlava, fruit, and cookies. 

Thanksgiving is always all about gratitude, family, and feasting. In Armenian culture, the family is of utmost importance, and eating our favorite Thanksgiving foods together is just one way my family and I bond during this time of year—we spend a week together indulging, traveling around Michigan, staying up late playing poker and board games, laughing, and loving. This year is a bit different, but we typically host as many people in our home as possible; Thanksgiving usually feels like one giant sleepover with our loved ones.

Another Thanksgiving tradition I’ll miss: several of my family members are also University of Michigan alumni, so a part of the family traipses off to attend the weekend college football game out in the blistering cold while the rest of us shop 'til we drop or hang out at the house. After a week spent together, we all part ways with our bellies full and hearts even fuller, excitedly awaiting our next reunion.

Multicultural Thanksgiving Dishes

The United States is a melting pot of cultures, and in a state as diverse as California, I know I’m just one of many who have fun Thanksgiving Day traditions that combine aspects of different cultures. Thanksgiving traditions for families vary across the Golden State—and beyond—so we asked our readers to contribute and share their long-held multicultural Thanksgiving traditions. Aside from making a few traditional Thanksgiving foods, our readers also enjoy:

  • Spanish rice and salsa
  • Chicken and dumplings
  • Refried beans
  • Tamales and turkey
  • Arepas using leftover turkey
  • Steamed bread and lamb
  • Turkish cheese
  • Tamales and salsa
  • Korean fried chicken
  • Lumpia and sisig
  • Paella


So, if you're looking to liven up your table this year, give these delicious dishes a try.

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