This is a long weekend in America: Americans are observing Thanksgiving, which normally is officially observed 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 their 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 a different flavour with each immigrant group. Almost every family hosts a dinner on Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday, or takes a turn at hosting this dinner over the next three days (Friday thru Sunday). Those who cannot afford to host a dinner, or lack a home, enjoy a dinner organised by volunteers at a church or community center, sometimes over four days. Several Guyanese church groups have hosted dinners for the less fortunate in Queens and Brooklyn.
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. Guyanese have reason to give thanks to America, which has been welcoming to them since the early days of Burnham’s dictatorship, going back to 1966. Since their arrival in the US, Guyanese have been very thankful for their presence and well-being 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 attained high levels of achievement in various fields, and have acquired homes, started businesses, owned vehicles, etc. after only a few years in the country. Other groups take over a decade to record these achievements, and many don’t pursue home ownership. In addition, some Guyanese have shared part of their earnings with the poorer sections of American society.
The holiday really grew out of the harvest home celebrations of England. It is a day set aside annually to give 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 every wave of immigrants since, including recent arrivals like the large Guyanese community settled, has joined in the celebration by adding its own ethnic flavour (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 than in Guyana. Once they land in the US, they shed the lackadaisical attitude of life in Guyana and quickly become very hard-working people who do not depend on government handouts for their survival. Many even have two jobs and pursue higher education.
Guyanese are, for the most part, success stories, and are one of the highest income groups in the US. Overall, they contribute a lot more in taxes than in the benefits they receive. Many have also become successful entrepreneurs in a very short time after arrival, and many are enrolled in colleges and universities and are joining the ranks of professionals, earning some of the highest salaries in the nation.
Indo-Guyanese are among the highest income earners in America, just behind Indian-Americans. They see Thanksgiving as an occasion for family reunion and big joyous dinners. And relatives normally take turns at 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). Guyanese normally supplement the meals with the traditional ethnic dishes they enjoy in Guyana.
All religious denominations observed Thanksgiving Day, including Muslims and Hindus. By observing the festival, Guyanese are participating in a mainstream American festival, and not only in Phagwah, Deepavalli, Eid, and Qurbani. They give thanks for the progress they have made in America, realising their dreams and sharing their skills, talents, wealth and resources in making America a richer place to live.