Panamanians and Thanksgiving
First and foremost, I’d like to wish you a happy Thanksgiving holiday if you celebrate it. For those of you with a passive knowledge of what’s being celebrated today then allow me to enlighten you with my Wikipedia-powered knowledge: Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday every November in the United States, while in Canada it’s celebrated the second Monday of every October; it is a celebration where people give thanks to God for all of the things they have amassed and accomplished since it is the end of the harvest season, though in these modern times “harvest” tends to be a rather subjective word. Often referred to as “Turkey Day,” it’s a tradition of the holiday to have the bird as the main course in your Thanksgiving dinner, which is what is usually done in homes across America and the main reason why November is the busiest travel month of the year. The holiday is very important for Americans for various reasons: not only does it symbolize how thankful we are for the things we’ve achieved and what not, but it also means that the Christmas season has begun… “Black Friday” (the Friday right after Thanksgiving) is famous for all of the crazy sales and other bargains you can find as a celebration of the beginning of the holiday season! Cooky. There’s the Macy’s Day parade that goes down in Manhattan and of course the special Thanksgiving American football games to celebrate the holiday… but in the end, it’s all about eating that turkey.
The first official Thanksgiving was held on December 4th, 1619; there are still celebrations at the Berkely Plantation (where this event took place all those years ago) every year. The holiday (as we know it) was declared by president Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War; before, the holiday wasn’t formalized and there were instances in history where the holiday would be repeated several times throughout the year yet the president put his foot down:
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.”
Lay down the law, Abe. Anyway, in Canada things went down a wee bit differently. The United States later set aside the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday (the second Monday in October) as Columbus day, probably to save face and feel like they’re important in the grand scheme of things:
The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Canada. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and the first Thanksgiving to have taken place in North America. Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies. Frobisher was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him – Frobisher Bay.
At the same time, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed ‘The Order of Good Cheer’ and gladly shared their food with their Native-Canadian neighbours.
After the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal (United Empire Loyalists) to Great Britain were exiled from the United States and came to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada, although as a liturgical festival Thanksgiving in Canada also corresponds to the English and continental European Harvest Festival, with churches decorated with cornucopias, pumpkins, corn, wheat sheaves and other harvest bounty, English and European harvest hymns sung on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend and scriptural lections drawn from the biblical stories relating to the Jewish harvest festival of Succoth.
Eventually in 1879, the Canadian Parliament declared November 6th a day of Thanksgiving and a national holiday in Canada. Over the years many dates were used for Thanksgiving, the most popular being the third Monday in October. After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11th occurred. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays, and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day.
Somehow the Canadian edition of the holiday seems more exciting. Either way, you may be asking yourself: “Rob, why are you giving me a history lesson?” or “what’s your address so I can throw eggs at your window tonight?” Simple: I want you to take a good look at the history of Thanksgiving. Look closely now… I’ll wait.
Hey! Welcome back. I was feeling like y’all weren’t gonna make it but I’m glad I was mistaken. Anyhow, I hope you have looked through closely because it’s vital for my next point; the reason why I’m giving you this history lesson is to illustrate a point that many people here overlook and I believe this needs to be addressed… much like Halloween, Thanksgiving shares the common characteristic that Panama is nowhere to be found in the holiday’s history. We don’t even have a cameo. The only reason I can think of is that we think of ourselves as a small U.S and in order to complete the American template we feel compelled to celebrate yet another holiday that’s not inherently ours. The similarities between Halloween and Thanksgiving end there though, since Hallow’s Eve comes from Europe and it’s the motherland or whatever you want to call it; Thanksgiving was created by a bunch of pilgrims who wanted to thank this one Native American guy called Quanto for him not taking off their scalps and use them for their stew. This holiday is much more obscure in its popularity though, I believe, and not as many people celebrate it as Halloween yet there are many Panamanians I know that will celebrate it… funny thing is, a lot of them don’t even know when the hell it is you’re supposed to celebrate it anyway (it’s today, kids).
Rob: What’s up?
Mom: Can I ask you a question?
Mom: I want to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Rob: Excuse me?
Mom: I wanna celebrate Thanksgiving…! I think I have a lot to be thankful for and I want to celebrate it by having dinner with the family, but…
Mom: Do you know when the holiday is? Isn’t it this week?
Rob (realizing it’s Tuesday and that the following Thursday, this one, was in fact going to be Thanksgiving): I think it’s this Thursday, yeah.
Mom: Let’s get a turkey and celebrate!
Rob: But I don’t think I have much to be thankful for.
Mom: Don’t be a party pooper. Let’s celebrate!
Rob: If this is an excuse for you to eat turkey, then you could’ve just bought one last week.
Mom: No! It’s about being thankful!!!
Rob: But for what?
Mom: Like… life, and what’s been going on with the rest of the family.
Rob: Cute. Whatever, but I’ll be in it for the turkey.
Mom: That’s it, right? Just get the turkey and have dinner, right?
Rob: Wait… you’re looking for a stereotype?
Rob: Pumpkin pie, corn, mashed potatoes and if you can find an indian to hang out with us, then we’re golden.
Mom: Can he be Kuna Yala?
Mom: I’m kidding!
We Panamanians do this shit all the time. Since we love to celebrate every single little thing we do we’ve resorted to looking at other cultures’ holidays and make them our own so that we can party ourselves to retardation. Look, we not only do Halloween and Thanksgiving, but we have an Oktoberfest, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Rose Day, Easter, and many more on top of the other holidays that are rightfully ours. Any excuse is a good excuse to party according to us, I suppose. I’m pretty sure that molding one’s image to be an American is no longer considered “fashionable,” judging by how much into globalization we’ve become, whether we like it or not. I suppose it’s somewhat excusable, though… the way I like to see it is like this: back when I was young and stupid (as opposed to today, where I’m older and stupid) I used to go out with this Argentinian girl. I loved her so much, mostly because of her accent. Hadn’t heard anything like it before and on top of that she was very savvy and gorgeous, to boot. A dream girl if there ever was one. Anyway, I was going pretty steady with her and as she opened up to me she started exposing her culture to me. For example, there would always be “mate” at her house. Always… “mate” is this herbal tea contraption that tastes so good it’s ridiculous. One fine afternoon she not only laid out the different types of mate but she also talked to me about what each one means: that was when I found out why every time I was over she’d serve me mate that had a strong cinammon… because it’s customary that when someone serves you cinammon mate it’s because that someone’s thinking about you. That was the sweetest thing anybody had ever told me before that day; through her I learned about gauchos, soccer, tango and their crazy terminology that even though I would never bring myself to use them as part of my lexicon I absolutely loved it when she did. The point I’m trying to get to with this is that the same way I opened up to her culture, Panama has opened up to its former wives’ customs and has taken some as its own. Mind you that this is mostly in the big cities and other foreigner-friendly areas (Panama City, David in Chiriquí and Isla Colón in Bocas del Toro, to name a few); seeing stuff like this in the interior of the country is definitely something worth filming, for sure.
I have it on good authority that your local Riba Smith has everything you need to make your Thanksgiving day special, if you’re far away from home and want to thank people for your accomplishments in the form of a gracious dinner. Call a few people, your loved one and tell them you mean the world to them; whether they might appreciate your words or not is of no consequence since it’s their loss if they don’t. Have a happy Turkey Day; I’m going to thank myself for not throwing anyone out a window by eating a turkey sandwich and getting drunk. If I may make a suggestion as to what you should be thankful for, I’d like to say that you should be thankful that there’s people out there who care about you (like me, jackass) and that even though shit’s rough, it could always get worse. Get off your ass and do something that’s good for you, for a change; have some turkey while you’re at it.