Thanksgiving From a Caribbean Point of View
The American Thanksgiving is a meaningful event which every culture should covet; and it is not difficult to find other immigrants who share my Caribbean point of view.
“Caribbean immigrants may be black, white, Latino, East Indian, Chinese, Arab, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc, thus it is quite difficult to make broad generalizations of this unique group.” - Palash Ghosh (International Business Times)
This author's knowledge of Caribbean life is limited to the English-speaking “small islands” labelled Leeward Islands on the right side of the map.
We enjoy the food, but it is not the main attraction to the American Thanksgiving.
- Not the turkey; turkey is not a favorite meat in the Caribbean.
- Not because of the amount of food; Caribbean people know how to spread a feast.
In fact, a Caribbean Thanksgiving has different food items on the menu. Below is a comparison of foods on the Kroger Thanksgiving Dinner Menu and foods on a Caribbean Harvest (Thanksgiving) Menu.
The comparison is intended only to show that since the American menu does not have our favorite foods, there must be other attractive features, three of which are the gathering, the significance and the legacy.
Thanksgiving Menu Items
Turkey and Sliced Ham
Curry Goat and Jerk Chicken
Rice and Beans
Potatoes Au Gratin or Sweet Potato Soufflé
Fried Plantains or Steamed Cabbage
Dessert (not on menu)
Sweet Potato (Boniata) Pudding
Curry Goat with Rice and Peas
(1) The Gathering
The gathering of family and friends certainly has its appeal for Caribbean people. With or without the presence of food, we share generous amounts of conversation and laughter. On Thanksgiving Day in America, whether or not the gathering is a combination of Americans and Caribbean islanders, there will be a diversity of topics discussed:
- Memories of past events and news of coming events in the islands
- The comparison of American and Caribbean life—foods, cost of living etc.
- Births, marriages, deaths
- The difference between football and soccer
- The complexity of American politics
- The opportunities you get only in America
(2) The Significance
The Caribbean individual (like people elsewhere) offers his or her prayer of thanks to God on a daily basis; but the formal celebration for thanksgiving in the Caribbean is usually a religious community affair, in a weekend church service, not a household event on a weekday.
From a Caribbean point of view, the Thanksgiving family gathering is not only a social, but also a spiritual event.
In the Caribbean Thanksgiving Service (Harvest Celebration) people bring healthy samples of their crops and lay them around the church altar. They give thanks for the harvest; and in some churches, the produce is sold after the service and the proceeds given as a thank offering.
We Plough the Fields and Scatter , written by Matthias Claudius 1782 (also known as All Good Gifts) is a regular song on the program. It is interesting that Caribbean people sing the line about snow as enthusiastically as they sing the rest of the song. See the lyrics below and listen to a choral rendition.
After years of singing about snow while only imagining it, it is significant to the Caribbean experience to celebrate the US thanksgiving in a climate that, at least, promises snow. The cool temperature plus the beautiful fall colors on leaves signal the difference in the weather.
After an American Thanksgiving, there is also a difference in the magnitude of our thanks. We include territories both American and Caribbean when we sing in the chorus about "all good gifts around us."
We Plough the Fields and Scatter
We plough the fields, and scatter / The good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered / By God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, / The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, / And soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us / Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord / For all His love.
No matter the topic, thanks to God and to each other is certain to be expressed; and in the process of counting their blessings, someone is sure to sound a warning for the Americans not to take their many blessings for granted.
(3) The Legacy
The US Thanksgiving on a national level is rooted in the first American Thanksgiving Festival by the Pilgrims who left Plymouth, England in 1620, in search of civil and religious freedom. Following their first Thanksgiving for their bountiful harvest of crops in 1621, other annual celebrations followed until in 1941, the American Congress established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.
Gratitude to God for the preservation of life, for the protection of crops, for the supply of daily sustenance is an American legacy which influences nations all over the world. The Caribbean gets its share of influence.
- The 2009 American Censusreported 3.5 million Caribbean immigrants from more than 20 Caribbean countries.
- Roughly 1.2 million children had at least one Caribbean parent.
Through these immigrants and their children, the American legacy of thanksgiving passes to Caribbean regions. On their return to their island homes, they may not celebrate in the same way as they do in America, but they will still sing with meaning, “God Bless America.”
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© 2013 Dora Weithers