Syrian refugees and other newcomers look forward to first Thanksgiving

Syrian families and other new immigrants to Nova Scotia will get their first taste of a Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend, as hundreds of local families prepare to share their turkeys and trimmings.

Nearly 1,000 people will either host or be a guest as part of Engage Nova Scotia's Share Thanksgiving program

A group of newcomers and international students share a Thanksgiving meal last year as part of Engage Nova Scotia's Share Thanksgiving program. (Submitted by Angela Johnson)

Syrian families and other new immigrants to Nova Scotia will get their first taste of a Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend.

Hundreds of local families are preparing to welcome newcomers who will join them at their tables and share their turkeys.

Among those on the receiving end of this hospitality will be the Hamadi family of Sydney. Ahmad Hamadi, his wife and five children moved to Cape Breton from Syria in June.

They've been invited to share a holiday meal this weekend with members of their sponsor group.

Turkey and tradition

Speaking with the help of an interpreter, Hamadi said his family ate turkey back home, just not with cranberry sauce.

"We never did turkey dinner as a celebration kind of thing, and we're looking forward to see what this celebration is and learn more about it," he said.

Throughout the province, several Syrian families will also take part in Engage Nova Scotia's Share Thanksgiving program.

The program matches local hosts with newcomer families or international students who want to experience a Thanksgiving dinner.

Syrian immigrant Ahmad Hamadi and his family are looking forward to their first Thanksgiving dinner with some of their sponsors in Sydney. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Friends and family

Now in its third year, the program has almost 1,000 people signed up to be either hosts or guests this weekend.

Angela Johnson, the director of strategic partnerships and relationships with Engage Nova Scotia, says that's twice the number of participants as last year.

"We've had an influx of newcomers recently," she said. "The Syrian new immigrants who have come to Nova Scotia and international students. We did a lot of promotion around the universities locally and we've had a great number of them interested in spending Thanksgiving with a Nova Scotian family."

Stephanie Feng, a Chinese student at Cape Breton University, spent a Thanksgiving in Canada previously during a homestay, so she already has one Thanksgiving meal under her belt.

"They roast a turkey but I don't like the turkey to eat in this way," Feng said. "It's a little bit plain for me. I love something like pan-fry or BBQ, something like this."

But Feng says she's eager to give it another try, as a way to make new friends and immerse herself in Canadian culture.

Hamadi has a similar attitude.

"As long as it's between friends and family, then it's going to be a good time," he said.