Everyone knows what happens in America on Thanksgiving weekend, but few know how special this holiday is in a small industrial town in eastern Hungary. There an orphanage full of rejected children partook in the traditional American feast for the second year in a row. It may seem strange that Hungarian orphans in a state institution would celebrate Thanksgiving, but ironically, their celebration may have more in common with the first Thanksgiving than many that occur within American borders.
In 1621, the Pilgrims endured a difficult winterfull of suffering and death. The children at the Lakasotthon orphanage in Miskolc, Hungary, know the meaning of loss and suffering. Some of them know the sting of death all too well, having seen their parents pass away. One new little boy named Laci, who instantly became a favorite of mine, recently witnessed his father beat his mother to death. Many others have felt a different kind of sting as their parents still live, but simply dont want them.
Krisztian, a small gypsy boy of about eight, was dropped off at school one day by a mother who decided she was better off without him. Her new boyfriend did not want the child around, so the mother told to school to take her son to an institution. Now he lives with about 50 other children at the Lakasotthon.
The estranged mother did resurface at one point, saying she wanted the boy back. The orphanage director packed his bag, and little Krisztian sat in the office anxiously awaiting his mothers return. As the hours passed, his childlike enthusiasm gave way to tears and then tantrum. She never came.
Not only do these young Hungarians know what it is to suffer loss, they can also identify with the Pilgrims experience of Gods protection and preservation. The Pilgrims faced many dangers in the new land. These children have also faced various dangers over the past year.
A month ago, the institution was hit with an outbreak of scabies, leaving several children quarantined for weeks. And in the summer when some of the boys decided to play with matches, a fire broke out, completely burning up one of the bedrooms at the orphanage and causing significant smoke damage to one wing.
Renata, a soft-spoken 16-year-old orphan girl, tells the story of the fire with awe in her eyes. Nobody was hurt in the blaze, but that is only part of the story. Although the room and essentially everything in it was destroyed, the Bible that rested on a charred shelf remained perfectly intact and untouched by flame.
The children see it as some sort of miraclean indication that there is a God in Heaven who is watching over them. And some have come to trust in that God. They want to give Him thanks.
And so, with the help of volunteers from American military bases in Vicenza, Italy, and Bamberg, Germany, along with a ministry called GoodSports, these children took a break from their meager bread and soup and engaged in an American Thanksgiving.
Just as the Pilgrims were eager to share their food with the Indians, the orphanage fed the groups of Americans the first day of their stay. And just as the Indians brought five dressed deer and more than a dozen fat turkeys to the feast, the volunteers brought the traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey and dressing with all the fixings. Together, we fumbled through language barriers and assembled pumpkin pies.
Together we ate the feast. I found myself sitting at a table with five little boys between nine and 13 years of age. I plopped cranberry sauce on their plates, and they gobbled it down. I plopped green bean casserole on their plates and listened to their complaints when they did not like it. And they swarmed me when I brought the big plate of turkey and stuffing to the table. All at once they yelled: Én! Én! (Translation: Me first!)
After dinner the kids put on a program. One teenage girl named Adrienn recounted the story of the first Thanksgiving. A group of girls sang praise songsone of which Adrienn wrote.
In 1641, the Pilgrims feasted and had fun with their Indian guests, but their focus was on giving thanks to God for caring for them and providing for their needs. And at the Lakasotthon Thanksgiving, the focus is the same.
The high point was when this peculiar combination of American servicemen, Hungarian orphans, Hungarian and American missionaries and volunteers, one Italian and even two Yugoslavians took each other by the hand and bowed their heads in prayer.
And at that moment, everyone realized that although Thanksgiving may be an American tradition, the need to give thanks to God is universal.
Trudy Hutchens serves as a Research Specialist for Concerned Women for America. She lives in Budapest and teaches American Government at Hungarys National College of Public Administration. She has been writing on life and family issues for more than 10 years.