By Carmela Conroy for The Daily Times
Last week, some Pakistani friends welcomed me to their homes for Eidul Azha. As someone living far away from loved ones, it was wonderful to enjoy their hospitality and witness the warmth of family and food during this special time in Pakistan. It reminded me of our American Thanksgiving holiday, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.
Americans of all ethnicities, religions and national backgrounds celebrate Thanksgiving Day at home or in larger group settings. Traditional Thanksgiving foods, such as turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin and pecan pies, harken back to the first Thanksgiving almost 400 years ago.
The first Thanksgiving was a feast shared by English pilgrims who founded the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts, with Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe. In 1620, the pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of religious freedom. Arriving too late to plant many crops, and without fresh food, half of the pilgrims died of illness that first winter. The following spring, the Wampanoag people taught the English how to grow local crops, like corn, barley, beans and pumpkins, and helped them master hunting and fishing in the untamed wilderness.
The following fall, the pilgrims and the Wampanoags celebrated God’s blessings together at the new harvest. Very few pilgrims would have survived to celebrate that first Thanksgiving, but for the Wampanoag people’s charity towards them, helping them to adjust to their new home.
That spirit of giving thanks to God for our blessings, and sharing those blessings with others, lives on. I have observed that Pakistanis share a portion of their sacrificed bakra with their poorer neighbours during Eid. Similarly, many Americans spend part of their Thanksgiving serving meals to the needy or donating food or money to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Families often participate together in charity fundraisers or donate to food drives. Thousands of charitable organisations serve hot dinners to the needy and many thousands of turkeys are donated to underprivileged families each year.
This year, the Thanksgiving and Eid traditions of charity and sharing are more important than ever here. The severe flooding this summer was the largest natural disaster that Pakistan has ever experienced, and I am proud to say that the American people contributed over one-third of the total relief provided by the international community to help people whose livelihoods and homes had been destroyed. American charities predict that more Americans will seek help during the holiday season than did last year, due to the ongoing economic downturn. As we count our blessings, we must recognise that although floodwaters have receded, many affected people still lack adequate shelter and livelihoods.
Today, Thanksgiving Day, I take time to reflect on my blessings, including the warm Eid hospitality so recently offered by Pakistani friends. Inshallah, I hope that the spirit of generosity and support from our “two Eids”, both American and Pakistani, can continue through the holiday season and into coming new year.
–Carmela Conroy is the US Counsel General in Lahore, Pakistan.