I am not American. My understanding of Thanksgiving as a holiday is that it is a harvest festival. It is a commemoration of the early American settlers’ survival, thanks to the native Americans, until their crops came in.
I have vague memories of harvest festivals in our local church as a child, and my parents always contributed a basket filled with Swiss chard, yellow cling peaches and cherry tomatoes, the only things which we, city dwellers with a garden, actually grew in greater abundance than we could reasonably eat. What I can’t remember is when this harvest festival fell. Harvest is traditionally an autumnal festival and in South Africa the fourth Thursday in November (American Thanksgiving) is only early summer.
Of course harvest festivals fall at various times of the year. The Jewish Biblical Harvest Festival of Sukkot is usually in September and Canada’s Thanksgiving is in October (their crops would be frozen if they left them till late November). Typically a harvest festival is an annual celebration that occurs around the time of the main harvest of a given region.
In the 21st century, in Johannesburg, the biggest city in Southern Africa, where I live, we grow a wide variety of things year round, using our excellent infrastructure to defeat the weather and seasons. Harvest is every day and I pick up what I want from a supermarket where strawberries, asparagus, mushrooms and avocado pears as well as hot cross buns, Christmas cake and Christmas mince pies are available virtually year round.
The principle, however, of thanking God from whom all blessings flow, is an excellent one, and when my friend, Nadine, told me that she had instituted her own tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving, I supported it enthusiastically. She chose the American date in tribute to the person who introduced her to the concept. Well, why not?
When the date was set and arrangements were being made I offered to bring vegetable breyani as my share of the feast. There are no long-standing family traditions around breyani in my home. As far as I can remember I did not ever eat breyani until I was an adult. While I do make my own breyani now (obviously without the benefit of secret family recipes), I mostly buy it ready made from Bismillah restaurant in Mint Street, Fordsburg. The reason I mention this is because from what I read it is important to Americans to have secret family recipes for things that make their particular variety of the dish better, at least in their eyes, than anyone else’s. Which brings me back to the whole point about Thanksgiving. It is a celebration, not a competition.
So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving I made a list of things for which I am profoundly grateful to God and to others. This was fortunate because we were expected to share this list before dinner. Dinner was excellent. Pumpkin pie is sweet – sweeter than I like as a vegetable but not sweet enough for dessert. For dessert we had pecan pie and a variety of Geldof handmade chocolates and excellent coffee. The chocolates were paired with excellent wines by a wine fundi who does this for a living. This was a special meal, made with love by everyone and eaten in great company. I suppose that is what the tradition of Thanksgiving is all about.
I had a good time. More than that I am profoundly thankful to our hostess and to her friends who made up the congenial company and the wonderful meal.
This is an event which I would be happy to turn into a personal tradition.