American Holidays in Africa, or How Victoria’s Heart Thawed

For our first monthly meeting in Dakar, the Fellows celebrated a late Thanksgiving at Rachel’s house. I was averse to having a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner, but tried not to dampen everyone else’s holiday spirits. It just struck me as rather America-centric to feel the need to celebrate traditional holidays while abroad, especially while in an immersion program, and especially when the holiday is one as distinctively American as Thanksgiving. (Yes, I am aware that Canadians also celebrate Thanksgiving, but it’s really not quite the same.) Thanksgiving admittedly doesn’t hold much importance with me anyways. First of all, there are far too many questions about the cruelty of the colonizing Europeans and the resulting plight of the natives for me to give thanks for this national holiday. Secondly, Thanksgiving isn’t that much fun for me as a vegan. So right off the bat, my desire to celebrate Thanksgiving was probably less than that of the other Fellows.

However, once all the traditional fare was prepared (we actually had chicken and one symbolic turkey leg), my idealistic-youthful-activist cynicism melted away like butter in mashed potatoes. The Fellows’ faces were literally beaming with happiness. We stood in a circle and gave thanks, and everyone, including Rachel and our three Senegalese guests, was grateful to have us together. I got teary-eyed, as any of my friends will tell you I am apt to do. Ethnocentrism aside, the preparation and consumption of the feast created a warm and genuine feeling of family that night.

So for Christmas – which, fine, is also my favorite holiday – I was happy to do what little we could to make an 85-degree day in the desert feel like Christmas. Gaya and Hilary, who also live in Sebikotane, came over to indulge in hot chocolate, chai tea, chocolate-dipped sugar cookies and Dove Peppermint Bark, all courtesy of Gaya’s mom. (Shoutout to Mrs. Morris: that package was amazing!) Eating those holiday treats while listening to Bing Crosby singing Christmas carols made for a festive mood. We got dressed up and went to the midnight Mass at the local Catholic church, but there was some confusion and we ended up being late. So, after our Christmas slumber party, we returned to the church in the morning to attend another Mass. Feeling the way I do about Catholicism, I was surprised at how comforting it was to be in a church and hear familiar Latin psalms. It was yet another realization of how powerful one’s traditions and customs can be, even if you think they’re not important to you.