Guyanese celebrate Thanksgiving

Dear Editor,

Guyanese and other Caribbean diasporas in America join with other Americans in giving thanks for being in America by celebrating the traditional Thanksgiving Day holiday with family, church service reunions, feasts, and charitable offerings.

America has been kind and receptive to most immigrants who in turn give thanks by sharing their earnings with the poorer sections of the society and with relatives back in the home country. Each generation of immigrants and each ethnic group adds its own distinct flavour of the festival as they celebrate at home and/or in their community. And as they do with all other festivals, including Christmas or Independence Day, Guyanese and other immigrant Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving festival in their own unique way.

Thanksgiving Day is a historical celebration in the US going back to the 1600s since the early settlement of North America by Europeans (Pilgrims as we are told in history books).  It is a national holiday, a kind of a spiritual day (without denomination) observed on the last Thursday of every November with businesses and schools closed for an extended four day weekend – giving thanks for overcoming adversity.  The festival sets up a state of mind for the Christmas holiday that is a month later.  It is the busiest shopping period as well as the busiest travel week in the year. Over forty million Americans are expected to travel a minimum of 100 miles to be with their relatives during the festival. Stores are jam-packed the days after Thanksgiving. Many also order meals for the celebrations with Guyanese restaurants busy during the period with orders for roti and other items.

Guyanese and other Caribbean people, as indeed all Americans, view Thanksgiving as an occasion for family reunions and big dinners.  Relatives normally take turns hosting dinner over the four day period from Thursday to Sunday. Dinner normally includes the traditional American turkey supplemented with traditional Guyanese dishes including dhal puri, pachounie, phulourie, bara, fried rice, chowmein, fried channa, etc, and favourite drinks like mauby and sorrel for the children, and rum for the adults.  For dessert, there is black cake, pumkin pie, etc, with some throwing in rasmalai, gulab jamoon, etc.  And it is not unusual for them to substitute the turkey with curried duck, chicken, mutton, and goat, etc.

Giving to the less fortunate is part of the Caribbean culture. Giving back to society is considered part of their duty because the community has so much to be thankful for ‒ for being healthy and alive and escaping the impoverishment of the Carib-bean. And people donate food to shelters and some host dinners for the unfortunate. Others donate foods at pantries and offer services giving out food to the poor. To give thanks, some bake turkeys and cakes that are donated to homeless shelters in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  Their charitable gifts help to ease hunger, poverty and homelessness in the city. Guyanese and other Caribbean people also volunteer time at churches that host dinners for the poor and homeless. Many also used the Thanks-giving occasion to give generously to the charities of their choice, including the Red Cross and the American Cancer Institute in addition to their local mandir, masjid and church.  Others send money to friends and relatives in the home countries.

Thanksgiving Day is usually celebrated with the largest parade in the nation on Fifth Avenue, featuring all kinds of magnificent floats and balloons of cartoon characters and a host of Hollywood celebrities and sports stars. Most people were glued to the television sets that carried live broadcasts of the parade.

By observing the festival, Guyanese are participating in a mainstream American celebration in the same manner that they celebrate their own traditional festivals such as Phagwah, Deepavalli, Eid, Qurbani, Christ-mas, Guyana Day, etc. They want to give thanks for the progress they have made in America, the land that has given them the opportunity to realize their dreams.  And it is noted that they are contributing in helping to make America a better place to live and sharing their wealth and giving back to the society to which they owe their success.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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