We enjoy the American cuisine, but that is not the sole attraction of the day. Turkey is not a popular meat in the Caribbean, and the Caribbean people do know how to spread a Thanksgiving feast with a variety of other food items on the menu. Below is a comparison of foods on the Kroger Thanksgiving dinner menu and foods on a Caribbean celebration 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
|Menu Item||American Menu||Caribbean Menu|
|Meat||Turkey and Sliced Ham||Curry Goat and Jerk Chicken|
|Main Dish||Mashed Potatoes||Rice and Beans|
|Optional Dishes||Potatoes Au Gratin or Sweet Potato Soufflé||Fried Plantains or Steamed Cabbage|
|Dessert (not on menu)||Pumpkin Pie||Sweet Potato (Boniata) Pudding|
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 upcoming island events
- The comparison of American and Caribbean life—foods, cost of living, etc.
- Reports of births, marriages, deaths
- The difference between football and soccer
- The complexity of American politics
- The opportunities you get only in America
Caribbean individuals (like people elsewhere) offer their prayers of thanks to God on a daily basis, but the formal celebration for Thanksgiving in the Caribbean is usually a religious community affair. It is often in a weekend church service, not in a weekday household event.
In our Thanksgiving Service (Harvest Celebration), people bring healthy samples of their crops and lay them around the church altar. The worship program includes songs, poems, and reflections with a theme of gratitude to God for His blessings on individuals and community. In further expressions of thanks for the harvest, some churches sell the produce after the service to swell the church offering.
We Plough the Fields and Scatter, written by Matthias Claudius in 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.
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.
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 and 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.”
In the process of counting their blessings, giving thanks to God and to each other, someone is sure to sound a warning for Americans not to take their many blessings for granted.
The U.S. Thanksgiving on a national level is rooted in the first American Thanksgiving celebrated 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. In 1941, the American Congress established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.
Gratitude to God for the preservation of life, the protection of crops, and the supply of daily sustenance is an American legacy that influences nations all over the world.
According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), approximately 4.5 million Caribbean immigrants resided in the United States in 2019, representing 10 percent of the nation’s foreign-born population. Through these immigrants and their children, the American legacy of Thanksgiving passes to Caribbean regions.
Those who return home may not celebrate in the same way as they do in America, but they will still sing with meaning “God Bless America.”
Dora Weithers is an author from the Caribbean. Her books, Older and Stronger: Spiritual Nourishment for Aging Christians and Purity Circle Workbook can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Dora-Isaac-Weithers/s?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3ADora+Isaac+Weithers.