Thanksgiving Day: What it means to black American women

by Joseph Omoniyi
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America’s Thanksgiving Day is one of the most anticipated and widely beloved days. Perhaps, no other nonsectarian holiday has more tradition, family, friends and food have become the major symbols of this rare celebratory holiday that urges all to be grateful for things they have.

Born in the 1500s and mythologised in 1621, it wasn’t until a decade later that the Plymouth settlers, known as Pilgrims, arrived in the New World. They celebrated at Plymouth for three days after their first harvest in 1621. The gathering included 50 people who were on the Mayflower (all who remained of the 100 who had landed) and 90 Native Americans. The feast was cooked by the four adult Pilgrim women who survived their first winter in the New World, along with young daughters and other servants.  

For black American women, it is another opportunity to express their spirit of gratitude and thanks this Thanksgiving, for their lives and to all the special people in their lives.

It is clear that Thanksgiving will be a little different this year. Americans will travel less and spend less time with family, making it more important than ever that they find some new and creative ways to express what they are thankful for.

Most Americans are probably familiar with the story of the Pilgrims who sat down for a meal with the Wampanoag tribe; however, there are essentially two historical attributes for this Thanksgiving holiday for Black folks. These origin stories both revolve around wars and the church.

After the turning point for the Americans at Saratoga during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress issued a decree to the 13 colonies, urging them to “give thanks” and enslaved Black people were also invited to join in on the celebrations.

According to the African American Registry, Thanksgiving expression for the American Black community began as a church-based celebration. Black pastors often gave sermons that could be heard loud and clear through the many small Black churches. The sermons would be about struggles, hopes, fears, and triumphs. The sermons usually grieved the institution of slavery; the suffering of the Black people; and often pleaded for an awakening of a slave-free America that would someday come soon.

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