How schools can use Thanksgiving to celebrate diversity

How schools can use Thanksgiving to celebrate diversity: Tips for hosting a Global Potluck

Your school can honor Thanksgiving in a thoughtful way.

Modern Thanksgiving celebrations typically mean an overload of turkey and one too many slices of pumpkin pie. Schools often add their own Thanksgiving feasts to the mix, giving our children a double whammy. Unless you love, love, love turkey, you’re likely to have a bit of Thanksgiving fatigue before the weekend is over.

We’re doing things differently at my daughter’s school.

A little background:

Our country is made up Native Americans and immigrants from every corner of the world. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate how we’ve come together as a nation, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to honor where each of us comes from. As our country becomes more blended, it is important to recognize how our unique cultures add to the spirit of the whole.

How schools can use Thanksgiving to celebrate diversity: Tips for hosting a Global Potluck

The Challenge

As a way to celebrate your multicultural community, invite parents to contribute a dish to a school Thanksgiving potluck from their ancestors’ country (or countries) of origin. Here’s a sample letter that can be sent home in children’s folders or via email, accompanied by a Recipe Card (with map).

Dear Parents:

This year our Thanksgiving Feast will celebrate our school’s multicultural heritage.

Are your great grandparents from Italy? What about Brazil or Kenya? Did you move here from India? Or are you Native American?

We invite you to prepare a dish from your family heritage for the feast on November ____ at ____ AM. Attached is a sheet to fill out with your child. Please invite your child to color or place a sticker on the continent where your recipe originates. Please turn the paper in by _____.

I can’t wait to see what you make!

With gratitude,

Parent of    ____________


Global Potluck Recipe Card

Opportunity for learning

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, after the harvest. The event lasted for three days, with nearly twice as many Native Americans as Pilgrims in attendance (90 Native Americans versus 53 Pilgrims).

My daughter’s 24-person class served up 2 dozen dishes from every continent except Oceania. Only a couple of Native American families were represented on the buffet. Some schools may find they have no Native American dishes represented. This is a poignant reminder of how much things have changed since the Pilgrims came to America, and is a great opportunity for class (and family) discussion.

Decorating to make the event “flow”

How schools can use Thanksgiving to celebrate diversity: Tips for hosting a Global Potluck

1. Tables & Tablecloths

We set up 2 lines of tables on opposite sides of the room: One line of tables was the western hemisphere (North America & South America); the other line of tables was the eastern hemisphere (Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania).

We decorated them with tablecloths in different colors. Originally we were going to do a different color for each continent but ended up just doing 2 colors, one for each side of the world because we had a small group of families participating. If the event is a larger, all-school event, consider doing a set of tables for each continent to help parents and students see where one continent begins and another ends. The tablecloths also make clean up a breeze.

How schools can use Thanksgiving to celebrate diversity: Tips for hosting a Global Potluck

2. Continent Signs

My husband made continent signs on a laser cutter. You could do something simple by painting old tin cans and filling them with dried beans. Attach a handmade sign to a wooden dowel and poke it into the tin can base to secure the sign.

How schools can use Thanksgiving to celebrate diversity: Tips for hosting a Global Potluck

3. Food Signs

Families can identify their dishes with food signs. The signs should not be too large – no more than a 1/2 sheet of paper – because the tables quickly fill up with food. Include a spot to indicate any possible allergens as well as what part of the world the dish comes from. We taped these signs in front of the dishes so they didn’t get knocked to the floor accidentally.

How schools can use Thanksgiving to celebrate diversity: Tips for hosting a Global Potluck

4. Passports

Want extra credit? Give the kids a passport to stamp as they travel through the dishes. I made a fun, free Printable Passport Download for events like this:


What did the kids & families think?

We did this with the Kindergarten and Preschool families at my daughter’s school. We got feedback that this was the best school potluck the families had ever attended. Teachers loved the educational component – both as community building and a lesson in geography. Parents were thrilled to not have “another” dose of turkey (and a conversation starter with parents they may not know), while the children took great pride in sharing the food of their cultural heritage with their classmates. Families also loved preparing for the event, as it gave them a chance to talk with their children about their family’s roots.

An important note on sensitivity:

Our “melting pot” of a nation not only includes a variety of cultural heritages, but various family situations. Not all children know about their family’s roots – whether because of adoption, death, historical events, or the past is simply “not talked about.” For some, turkey & mashed potatoes are the only roots they know. With this in mind, please welcome whatever food the children and their loved ones choose to share. Your open heart validates their experience.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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