Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


My First Thanksgiving at UCL

Isabelle, second year UCL English student, reminisces about her first Thanksgiving experience in her first year at UCL.

Thanksgiving dinner table
Thanksgiving was never a part of my childhood and has, until recently, only ever been an event I observed from a distance (admittedly through watching the Thanksgiving episodes on Friends). However, upon enrolling at UCL in 2019 as an English Literature student, I experienced my first Thanksgiving.


My lovely friend Liz, who I met quite early on in my journey with the UCL Jazz Society, celebrates Thanksgiving each year. When she invited me to her Thanksgiving dinner party last November, I happily accepted her warm invitation; I was in the early stages of my university journey and was overwhelmed by the kindness of being invited to a party when I had only known her for as short time, especially when the other invitees were older than me (I felt like I had gained extra street cred). I was also very intrigued to experience a proper Thanksgiving, and I gladly accepted her invitation. However, I did have my reservations: how does one go about celebrating Thanksgiving when they had never celebrated it before? There was certainly a level of apprehension leading up to the event.

The first question: what does one bring to a Thanksgiving party as a contribution to dinner and a sign of appreciation? Upon accepting the invite, I immediately messaged my friends to ask advice on what to take with me. As a non-alcohol drinker, I am not clued up on what drinks suit what occasions. So I strolled the Tesco shelves for an indecisive 20 minutes trying to decipher what would strike the right balance between sophistication and student. I settled with what I knew: mince pies (even though it was November) and Lindt chocolates; on reflection this was a good choice, as they were warmly welcomed. 

I arrived late to the party after being tied up with a band rehearsal, and was expecting my entrance to be awkwardly received, especially because I wasn’t acquainted with everyone there. I had nothing to fear - I was met with lots of smiley faces and warm hellos. Everyone was lovely and there was lots of chatter, which immediately put me at ease. It was a joyful and fun environment. Liz and her girlfriend put on an enormous spread of delicious food, and we spent the evening eating, chatting and laughing. There was good music, good conversation and good food: what more can one ask for? It was so much fun, and I look back fondly on that evening as a highlight of my first year at UCL.

Leading up to the event, I was plagued by the question: would I be a Thanksgiving imposter, having never celebrated it before? Looking back, it didn't matter what food I brought or whether or not I had celebrated Thanksgiving before. It was about being with friends and celebrating everything you are thankful for; for me, that was being invited to a wonderful dinner when I had only just joined UCL and was still finding my feet. I was thankful for Liz’s kindness and the friendships I both built and solidified with the other guests.

Rather than simply an annual calendar event where lots of food is eaten, Thanksgiving is so much more: it is a time to be thankful and enjoy spending time with your friends and family. As I look back at the last year since my first Thanksgiving, I am thankful for a lot of things, one of which is definitely my first Thanksgiving because it now feels like a familiar time when I can reflect on what I am thankful for. If COVID-19 did not prevent gatherings this year, I’d certainly be hosting my own Thanksgiving.