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Photo credit: Naples Daily News
By: Emily Devereaux/Arab America Contributing Writer
Origins of Thanksgiving
Close your eyes. Picture the leaves different shades of red, yellow, and orange, and feel the breeze of late November. The holiday season is about to start with Thanksgiving. What do you picture when you think of Thanksgiving? Many Americans picture a table full of food and football with the family.
Even though children’s stories and history books portray the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans sitting down together over a feast in 1621, this holiday was actually a one-time feast, that ended with a devastating war and became an image for the ongoing slaughter of the Native Americans on behalf of the European settlers.
Many people may opt to skip this holiday altogether. However, in order to celebrate a day of family and thanks without celebrating the exclusion and discrimination of other groups. Open and honest conversations about multicultural cooperation and how to celebrate inclusivity among all identities are starting points. This helps ensure Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful and to celebrate inclusivity- rather than ignorantly endorse a holiday that carries dark meanings for many Native American populations.
In addition to simply acknowledging the true history of Thanksgiving, many people, specifically many Arab-Americans are doing service before partaking in the festivities and self-indulgence during Thanksgiving. It has become a growing trend among Arab American grocery owners to donate turkeys to families who may not otherwise have a full Thanksgiving meal, and many Mosques and cultural centers have kept up with this trend as a way to give back to their community. Parishioners at Arab churches, mosques, and community centers volunteer to distribute the turkeys to the less fortunate and serve meals to refugees and homeless the day of Thanksgiving.
Al hamdu li’llah! This common phrase is an expression of gratitude used countless times by people of the Arab World and Arab Americans. Literally meaning that all praise goes to God, al hamdu li-lah is used to answer how someone is, no matter what is happening. This signifies that Arab people show gratitude for their countless blessings, rather than dwelling on what appears to be the opposite of a blessing. Gratitude is valued highly in Arab culture. For many Arab Americans, Thanksgiving is no exception to this rule.
Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, meaning it is not rooted in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other religion. However, there are still plenty of reasons to thank God for all of the blessings around us! In Arab culture, being ungrateful indicates serious troubles. People are servants of God, and therefore being grateful for all that you have allows you to reaffirm those around you that they are sharing God’s mission with you. When you are thanking someone, you are thanking them for what they do to you, which is showing you God’s love and peace through their actions.
Thanksgiving is a special time where families, friends, and loved ones thank each other. While it is important to express gratitude daily, Thanksgiving may be a special day to really take the time and thank others.
An Arab American Thanksgiving!
Family and food, what day sounds better to Arab Americans? Maybe you are trying to personalize Thanksgiving with your Arab family or you are hosting an Arab American friend. Regardless, Arab American Thanksgiving synthesizes two identities and celebrates both identities, without abandoning Arab heritage.
What characterizes an Arab American Thanksgiving? In the simplest of terms, “blending the best of both worlds”. Both identities are celebrated concurrently. An Arab American Thanksgiving table may have a turkey, but right next to it is the lamb. Or there is hummus next to the mashed potatoes. You get the point. There may be traditional American holiday foods, but there are also plenty of Arab dishes brought to the table.
Here is an article that explains some great Arab dishes to be brought to your table this year!
Arab Americans signify the meaning of Thanksgiving not only once a year, but every day of the year. They do it not only do it by saying “nushkur Allah” (thanks to God) or “al hamdu li laah” (praise be to God) but by finding an abundance of ways to express gratefulness.