The busiest travel season in the United States has arrived, and millions of people are visiting friends and family for this Thanksgiving holiday.
It is an annual ritual that brings people together for reflection, prayer, food and yes, football. They will gather around dining room tables across the United States to eat classic dishes of green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, all kinds of pies and, of course, plenty of turkey.
By some estimates, Americans will eat more than 50 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day and spend close to $3 billion on meals.
But for other families who celebrate this holiday for the first time in their lives, the day carries a special meaning.
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Refugee families who have fled conflicts in countries like Syria, Somalia and Burma bring their own cultural traditions and experiences to this American holiday.
For many of them, the opportunity to get together with family and relatives, to enjoy a meal in a peaceful and joyous environment, is a triumph over the adversity they have faced for so long.
And as they settle into their new surroundings and learn about the history and traditions of Thanksgiving, they will also celebrate what they have found in this country.
They will enjoy the simple pleasures of life, the ones that many Americans perhaps take for granted: waking up with a roof over their heads, going out for a walk to the park, traveling to visit friends and family and shopping at a grocery store.
These are freedoms many refugee families will get to enjoy for the first time in their lives. The perilous journey they have taken, many of them losing family members along the way, has marked their lives forever.
It is impossible to imagine the suffering of those families who have found a safe haven in this country, but we can say with certainty they are thankful to this nation for their chance to live peacefully without having to look over their shoulders each day.
The conversation after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris has taken an acrimonious turn, with polls showing opposition to refugee resettlement — especially those refugees from Syria. And the decision by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to slam the door on Syrian refugees soon cascaded into more than two dozen governors refusing to accept refugees from that besieged country.
Since 2012, fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees have settled in the United States. And these refugees face some of the strictest screenings of any country.
For many, that’s not enough.
These are politically charged issues. The concerns by many about the possibility of terrorists infiltrating our country’s borders to carry similar attacks to those witnessed around the world demand our utmost attention and must not be ignored.
But to compromise our ideals in the face of fear should never be an option. There are many around the world, particularly those in war-torn countries, who view this nation as a beacon of hope.
In their most desperate time of need, this nation along with its allies should come together to provide refugees an opportunity to rebuild their lives away from the terrible fate they would face in their home countries.
It is as Safia Ismael, president of the nonprofit organization Awdal Charity Services, tells the Star-Telegram about the refugees who find shelter in America: “They came from horror. They came from hell to heaven”.
As they gather at their tables to celebrate what is a new holiday for them, let’s welcome the opportunity they have to give thanks for a chance at a better future.