A Guyanese thanksgiving: Food for thought?

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By Kurt Campbell

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It’s November 25, 2021 and millions of people across North America are celebrating Thanksgiving Day with family reunions, church services, feasts and charitable offerings.

In Guyana and other parts of the Caribbean, while the celebration is not major, it has been growing in a sub sector of the population in the last decade.

Guyanese restaurants are advertising thanksgiving dinners, replete with stuffed turkeys and cranberry sauce – an exact replication of a thanksgiving menu which is traditionally accepted in the United States of America.

Caribbean families are also coming together for the holiday with major commercial events planned, because for a few, the acceptance of the culture is a means of making money.

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.

A good concept, wouldn’t you agree? But as Caribbean people and Guyanese specifically, should we replicate the celebrations? And even if we could, isn’t there a genuine Guyanese cultural identity to how those celebrations should unfold?

Alim Hosein, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Guyana’s Department of Language and Cultural Studies

As Alim Hosein, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Guyana’s Department of Language and Cultural Studies explains, it is indeed a good concept to give thanks and to look forward confidently to the future.

“It is an easy celebration to get into… you don’t have to be Hindu or Muslim to participate in thanksgiving.

“The only issue is why Guyanese should be celebrating thanksgiving in November linked to American history,” he reasoned.

He believes that although a plethora of reasons exist for the cultural migration, perhaps Guyanese ethnic diversity and the divisions that are derived from that have pushed us to embrace the American version of thanksgiving.

For many Guyanese, thanksgiving once and still means the reaping of the harvest from your kitchen garden and taking those goods to church where it is shared among brethren.

While cohesively and economically the American imitation is fantastic, Hosein believes the celebration must be rooted in something that belongs to the Guyanese people for it to be genuine and accepted.

“We just can’t take a celebration and pattern it,” he said, although there is no imposition to celebrate.

Guyanese are celebrating thanksgiving in the fashion they are today because of the movement of cultures across borders engendered by movement of people and media.

It is important to note that it is still not a widespread celebration or a substitute for Guyanese thanksgiving however that is defined, but it still remains largely a North American Holiday.

“Probably it is a good thing, it promotes understanding and knowledge of people but also it may have some negative effects if it puts pressure on the local cultures.”

Just like Halloween, Christmas trees sold complete with snow and the sounds of ‘dreaming of a white Christmas’ being played in local stores, Thanksgiving Day must also be cautiously accepted if Guyanese are serious about preserving their own cultural identity.

TRANSFERAL

Hosein took time to explain transferal, premising it on cultural imperialism, where developed countries were able to spread influence and establish their culture as part of education systems.

Guyanese living abroad who are exposed to different cultures are returning with those experiences and are now celebrating holidays they have grown accustomed to.

Additionally, young people who are looking for other things to do apart from usual Christmas, Phagwah, Diwali and Easter, are finding new ways to celebrate and express themselves with the adaption of foreign culture.

A fourth thing may be a sense of modernisation in terms of what people think it means to live in a modern world and think local traditions are backwards.

By observing the festival, Guyanese are participating in a mainstream American celebration in the same manner that they celebrate their own traditional festivals.

Albeit, Thanksgiving Day remains a secular holiday enjoyed by millions.

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