Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving in South Africa

South Africans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, nor do we have an equivalent to this uniquely American tradition.

I’ve been privileged to experience Thanksgiving with family and friends for each of the fourteen years that I’ve lived in America. This year, we’re in South Africa. I feel oddly disoriented.

It seems strange to be surrounded by Christmas trees and all things Christmas this early in November, as the country gears up for the holidays. It’s as though a crucial step has been skipped. I want to let everybody know what they’re missing. I want to say that Thanksgiving is a wonderful way to prepare for December and the end of another year; whether we celebrate Christmas or not. I want to explain how, every year on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans join together around bountiful tables to share a meal of Turkey with all the trimmings, celebrating their ties to people they love and giving thanks for their blessings; without the stresses and strains brought on by excessive commercialization.

Christmas is big in South Africa - the major celebration of the year, in this predominantly Christian country. Here, November is merely a warm-up in the race to Christmas and the New Year. Without the grace note of Thanksgiving, it’s a dizzyingly fast course.

With the zeal of a convert, I want to spread the message of Thanksgiving far and wide: We all have something to be thankful for, we all deserve the opportunity to celebrate our gratitude together with all of our fellow countrymen, in an atmosphere of tolerance and goodwill. What better way to do this than with a national holiday – like Thanksgiving?

May we all experience such a hopeful tradition.

Thanksgiving, as we know it today, could be one of America’s best gifts to the world.


  1. This has inspired me to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the UK this coming Thursday with my friends(in vegetarian fashion).It seems it may better encapsulate what we sometimes miss...that is, all we have to be thankful for. Excellent!

  2. Carol-Ann: What a thoughtful post, and great reminder for this week. I have often thought that Thanksgiving gets lost in the Christmas frenzy, but as you point out, without our "turkey day," that Christmas rush would be even more hectic.

    I love the concept of the "grace note" of Thanksgiving. Thank goodness it has not been turned into a gift-giving holiday or over commercialized like so many other days on the calendar.

    I will do my best to remember all I have to be thankful for this week. I hope you find a bit of Thanksgiving in South Africa!

  3. I, too, loved the phrase "the grace note of Thanksgiving," one of many elegant phrases in this lovely piece. Joining in a long line of observers, from de Tocqueville to Alistair Cooke, you offer, from your vantage point in South Africa, a welcome fresh perspective on this "uniquely American tradition."

  4. And how nice to hear from our vegetarian friends in England, with the salutory reminder that Thanksgiving doesn't need to be all about the turkey. I am reminded of my first "nut roast," which is to be reprised this Thursday, as one of our company is vegetarian, as well. In celebration of good company in the room with us and across the continents, we will raise a toast to all in celebration of the day.

  5. Mark Bittman (New York Times) talks about the craziness of the food preparation for the Thanksgiving Feast and mentions the new set of angst that comes along with the requirement to have the meals politically and environmentally prepared. I am grateful for my foodie friends that I have the privilege to break bread with given that they enjoy the pace and preparation process (PC and EC to boot!). All that is asked of me, each year, is to make the traditional Campbell’s Soup Green Bean Casserole (I recycle the cans). Grace notes abound!

    I thank you Carol-Ann, for the perspective.

  6. What a great perspective on Thanksgiving. From now on, I will appreciate Thanksgiving, and the special role it plays in our country and a prelude to Christmas, even a little bit more.


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