, Salem, MA


November 25, 2013

Column; Thanksgiving from an African perspective

I have always enjoyed Thanksgiving Day since my first experience in 1999. As a native of the Akan tribe in Ghana, West Africa, my culture (like many African cultures) values interdependence and community generosity. Generosity is a cardinal virtue in my homeland, and being ungrateful is deemed a despicable vice. Recipients of generous acts often appeal to a person of nobility to convey their gratitude, sometimes waking the “giver” at dawn in order to express their gratitude. To be ungrateful is to be associated with a false sense of self-sufficiency.

The Akan identity even lends itself to a framework in which giver and receiver alike find satisfaction in interdependence. It is not uncommon, for instance, for neighbors to ask for salt or pepper in preparation for a meal, before they are able to go to the market. Giving, receiving and thanksgiving is simply how Akan communities work.

So, giving thanks is part of who I am. But I had never lived in a nation where gratitude was accorded a national holiday, where God was identified as its benefactor and otherness as a cause for celebration until I came here. This notion of “legislated” Thanksgiving sparked a new sense of appreciation in me for America, one I still hold now as a citizen of a country that pauses from the busyness of life to acknowledge his gifts in thanksgiving with others.

I spent my first holiday with my family and in-laws at Schenectady, N.Y. The meal was big and delicious, the turkey tasted great, and the family interactions were uplifting.

One conversation to the other over dinner eventually helped me understand that the occasion was not a one-day event but an entire weekend celebration with food, fellowship, shopping and more shopping. Curious, I inquired about the roots and reasons for the holiday. Someone responded that it was a time for families to get together. But my mother in-law later explained that it began as a commemoration of God’s provision for the European pilgrims who celebrated their early harvest in thanksgiving with some Native Americans.

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