Nov 27, 2020 Letters
This is a long weekend in America where Americans are observing Thanksgiving, which is normally observed officially on the fourth Thursday of the month of November. It is a festival that American immigrants, since the Pilgrims of the 1600s, began as a means of giving thanks to the lord for a successful year. Initially, it was for the harvest and to thank the indigenous people for aiding the early immigrants. (The native people have almost been decimated and their history of abuse by Europeans is well documented). Over the years, the festival took on different meaning. Every immigrant group in America, including Guyanese, uses the occasion to praise the lord for their success in the new homeland.
The festival began with the traditional family turkey dinner and cranberry sauce made from the harvest along with corn, vegetables, bread, etc. But it has taken on different flavors with each immigrant group. Almost every family host a dinner on Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday, and takes turn over the next three days (Friday thru Sunday). Those who are not fortunate to afford a dinner or lack a home enjoy one at a church or community center organized by volunteers, sometimes over four days. Several Guyanese church groups hosted dinners in Queens and Brooklyn for the less fortunate.
Guyanese observed the traditional American Thanksgiving Day with family reunions, church service, feasts, and charitable offerings but on a smaller scale as a result of the COVID-19. Guyanese have reason to give thanks to America which has been welcoming since the early days of Burnham=s dictatorship going back to 1966. Since their arrival in the U.S, Guyanese have been very thankful for their presence and wellbeing in the U.S, and they have made Thanksgiving a Guyanese type holiday as well, merging the holiday as part of the Guyanese culture. Guyanese have been successful not only in attaining high levels of achievement in various fields but also acquiring homes, starting business, owning vehicles, etc. In addition, some have shared part of their earnings to the poorer sections of American society.
The holiday really grew out of the harvest home celebrations of England and is celebrated in the fall, the end of harvest in the Southern U.S. It is an annual day of giving thanks for the harvest and the blessings of the past year; this tradition began with the arrival of the earliest European immigrants in North America, the Pilgrims, in 1621. And since that time every wave of immigrants, including recent arrivals like the large Guyanese community settled, have joined in the celebration by adding their own ethnic flavor (of food, music, garb) to giving thanks and to the traditional meals, music, drinks and entertainment.
Guyanese-Americans have good reason to give thanks to America, a country that began to accept them during the difficult authoritarian years of Burnham’s misrule. America has been kind and very receptive to them. For the most part, they have “made it” in America living a much higher standard of life here than in Guyana with many having their own homes and cars. Once they land in the U.S, they shed the lackadaisical attitude of life in Guyana and quickly become a very hard working people who do not depend on government handouts for their survival. Many even work at two jobs and pursue higher education. Guyanese are for the most part success stories with one of the highest income groups in the U.S; overall, they contribute a lot more in taxes than in the benefits they receive. Many have become successful entrepreneurs in a very short time after arrival. And many are enrolled in colleges and universities and joining the ranks of professionals with some of the highest salaries in the nation.
They see Thanksgiving as an occasion for family reunion and big joyous dinners. And relatives normally take turn hosting dinner over a four day period from Thursday to Sunday. The thanksgiving dinner normally includes baked or roasted turkey, pumpkin pie, baked sweet yams, corn, cranberry jelly, and salad (including sugar beets) with wine and other hard liquor. Guyanese normally supplement the meals with their own traditional ethnic dishes including dhal puri, curried meats, pachounie, phulourie, bara, fried rice, chowmein, and fried channa as snacks. There is always a plentiful supply of mauby and sorrel for the children and lots of good Guyanese rum for the adults. For desert, there is Black cake, pumkin pie, sweet potato pie, rasmalai, gulab jamoon, etc. And it is not unusual for Guyanese to substitute the turkey with or add duck, chicken, mutton, and goat.
All religious denominations observed Thanksgiving Day, including Muslims and Hindus. The celebration has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in that families are careful – avoid big crowds and family banquets. But the spirit has not been dampened within the immediate family. By observing the festival, Guyanese are participating in a mainstream American festival and not only Phagwah, Deepavali, Eid, Qurbani, and Christmas. They give thanks for the progress they have made in America, the land that has given them the opportunity to realize their dreams by sharing their skills, talents, wealth and resources in making America a richer place to live.
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