ST. LOUIS (AP) -- New Americans may be unfamiliar with Thanksgiving, but giving thanks is a concept many fully grasp as they begin their new lives in the U.S.
The International Institute in St. Louis invited more than 200 refugees and immigrants studying English to an early Thanksgiving meal on Tuesday. Many are still learning about the holiday's rituals -- roasted turkey, a big meal, and watching football.
But they told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they came to America understanding the value of family and being able to share time together.
For many, that simple concept is precious. Some left behind war, refugee camps or famine.
Salma Aljamil, a 36-year-old Iraqi refugee, said she was most thankful for being safe.
"We have to be thankful every day, but it is nice to have an occasion for that," said Aljamil, who arrived in the U.S. two months ago.
The International Institute's meal included both traditional turkey and a halal version cooked according to Islamic dietary guidelines. Also served were stuffing, green beans, corn, rolls and peach cobbler
"Refugees are the newest pilgrims. We honor you," Anna Crosslin, the institute's head, told the diners.
The students sang "This Land is Your Land," a song practiced in their classes. The largest swell came on the line "this land was made for you and me."
Mohamed Bah, 40, of Sierra Leone, came to the U.S. two months ago. He was a journalist in his African country, and he said because of that, he was tortured. He said he was thrilled to be able to bring his wife and five children to America.
"I thank God that I get to witness the first Thanksgiving of my life," Bah said. "American people are friendly, and you have all your rights."
Suad Yousif, 39, of Iraq, arrived in the U.S. four months ago and said she had heard about Thanksgiving on television, but wasn't sure what it was all about.
She said now it's easy to grasp the holiday's significance -- it's about giving, and sharing, and spending time with loved ones. She said she planned to spend Thursday with family.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)