“Harvest”—That’s what this season used to be called in The Bahamas. Now, it’s “Thanksgiving”, which we have borrowed from the Americans, as we have many other customs and cultural artefacts, whose origins and purposes many no longer remember or perhaps never knew. I do know that harvest was a time of observances in church in thankfulness for guess what? Good harvests.
Maybe Harvest and praise and thanks for the yield of our fields are now lost to us because we don’t grow much anymore. Nowadays, we don’t know which moons to plant by or feel any need to pray for rain. We pray that the airplanes and ships that bring our foodstuffs and other goods from abroad are not held up by conflict in some part of the world. As a matter of interest, though, how many city primary school students can identify the plant which produces the corn on the cob we love so well? Anyway, that’s a matter for another day!
Let’s go back to Thanksgiving. How will we Bahamians celebrate this year? Based on the rise in activities in the supermarkets recently, it’s clear that season of food has opened. The hunt is on for holiday favourites—bag the juiciest turkey, run down the right ham and beat out the competition to score those tins of pie-making pumpkin that often get scarce or run out altogether. In most homes, from the wealthiest to the most humble, the accent will be on as much feasting as the budget can handle. Feast on! Who could begrudge you special meals, which you may not have the time or the money to enjoy in quite the same way at other times of the year.
But, let’s make Thanksgiving this year and every year to follow extra special in two ways.
First, put “thanks” back into the celebration. It has been a year of increasing consumer costs and concern that the world is coming apart at the seams. It would hardly be surprising if you see little to give thanks for. But you would be wrong. Beneath the obscuring layers of worries, Bahamians have and abundance of reasons to be grateful. To give you a head start, I offer a brief list of blessings, to help you put aside the gloom and start counting.
- If you can read this essay yourself, it means that you have had the privilege of a level of education that has given you precious literacy. Give thanks. If you have daughters, be even more grateful. They too will have the opportunity to learn to read. They will have the right to choose whom they will marry or not to marry. There are countries where choice is reserved for a very few, where school is forbidden for girls, who may be forced into marriage and motherhood at far too early an age.
- We have the right to protest, to criticize government. Oh that it had been the same for the Saudi Arabian journalist, dissident, author, whose life was taken for availing himself of what should be a basic human right. Give thanks.
- If you choose, you will be free to attend religious thanksgiving services in the church of your choice. Many are not. Or has anyone, like Salmon Rushdie, had a sentence of death imposed by the country’s religious leader for blasphemy? Give thanks.
- Has anyone you know been locked up in this country for writing a homoerotic book as a Chinese woman writer has been this year, while rapists can be sentenced to as little as three years. Give thanks.
- You have not been forced to leave your homeland under duress, fleeing hunger, war and persecution because of creed, color, gender bias of countless other forms of discrimination. You did not march, hungry, burdened by weary young children seeking asylum in a country, which shuts it borders to you with fearful threats from gun-toting militia. You have and your family have not fallen prey to genocidal madmen. Give thanks.
- While natural disasters have befallen many areas around the globe in 2018, The Bahamas has not been hit by a major hurricane this year. Give thanks.
- In this land, there are still a number of philanthropic individuals and groups, people of integrity, heart and courage who still believe in community and help to feed and clothe the less fortunate among us and sacrifice time and reputation to protect our environment and keep us free and our land progressing. Give fervent thanks for your good fortune.
I stop here deliberately. It is important that you take time to reflect and draw up a list of your own that will convince you of how grateful you should be. Now, as you sit to enjoy whatever special meal you have been able to afford, count your blessings, starting with the gift of life.
Yes, think about it. If you have anything to be thankful for, it means that you have been the object of someone’s giving—the good Lord, family, employer, a neighbour, a friend. Pay the gift of love forward. This is the second tradition I ask you to incorporate into your celebrations—Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other special occasion. Lend a hand, help to lift up the fallen, encourage the despairing, pray of the sick. If there is anything you can do, even if it is no more than a word of hope, let no one fall into darkness on your watch.
Pledge to grow peace in our land by walking away from conflict that could lead to violence. Pledge to make this country a model of democracy and freedom by giving of yourself and your substance to their support. Freedom to think divergently, freedom of expression, freedom from persecution because of your differences—Give thanks constantly for our beautiful homeland.
A happy and safe Thanksgiving to all!