Thanksgiving in Kenya: Families Warm Up to American Holiday, Giving It a Local Touch

Article by Jacqueline
Posted: November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Day is a hugely popular holiday in the United States. It’s a time when families gather together to share their year-round blessings over stuffed turkey. It is to Americans what Christmas, Eid-ul-Fitr or Diwali is to Kenyans. What started as a harvest festival where European settlers known as the Pilgrims would have a feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest, has transformed into a holiday celebrated annually in America.

The spirit and intent of Thanksgiving have seen it spread to other parts of the world including Kenya, where it’s gaining popularity. Roseanne Kamau is one lady who has made it a family tradition to observes the holiday every year. “Thanksgiving is a day where all our family and friends come together to celebrate life and all great things in life,” she says. When we ask her what the holiday means to her, she adds: “On this day, we simply remember the goodness of God in our lives. It’s also a time of reflection – on how far we have come in the year and the obstacles we have overcome. We focus on all things positive.”

They say first time’s a fluke, second time’s a coincidence and third time is a tradition. So, for Roseanne’s family is this a holiday they are allowed to skip? “No way! Our family and friends know that this is “OUR” holiday, so everyone is expected to come to our house to celebrate!” They started the tradition while living in Boston in the US, and they carried it on since moving back to Kenya.

In the US, plenty of dishes are prepared for a Thanksgiving dinner and central to the feast is the classic roast turkey. Here in Kenya, Roseanne and her family have given it their own Kenyan twist: “For food, we typically cook both Kenyan and traditional Thanksgiving dishes.  So, the table will have foods like pilau, chapati plus American dishes like sweet potato pie and sweet potatoes casserole. I also focus on ensuring we eat plenty of veggies! This is one of those holidays where if not careful, we could binge on all the wrong foods.” Since it’s all about celebration, Roseanne encourages her friends to bring their dishes, “We do a potluck where everyone coming brings a dish. My kids start baking two days before the party! The house is quite festive I must say.”

Outside of food time, her family and friends come up with fun games each year as a way to keep everyone interactive: “Our favourite is “MAFIA” which is quite suspenseful and keeps everyone engaged. We involve all the kids in all our activities and even encourage them to come up with games that we can all participate.”

In the Kamau household and increasingly in many other Kenyan homes, Thanksgiving is becoming an annual fixture. But is it one foreign holiday that Kenyans could do without – especially when it only comes a month before Christmas, which is when Kenyans generally have their annual family get-togethers? Roseanne thinks not. “The concept of Thanksgiving is not foreign in my opinion. Who would not want to eat good food, socialise, and be thankful while at it?”

So, who will you be celebrating your Thanksgiving Day with this year?

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