As Thanksgiving draws near, many people ask me if we celebrate Thanksgiving in Nigeria and how? It is a natural curiosity for people to ask questions like this to those they know come from cultures and places other than the United States. Sometimes, I am inclined to say no, we do not celebrate Thanksgiving in Nigeria. But that answer will either be incomplete or wrong. While Thanksgiving is an American thing, for the most part, many other cultures and nations have celebrations at various times of the year that are very similar to the American fiesta of Thanksgiving.
In the Igbo nation of Nigeria, the former Republic of Biafra, the “New Yam Festival” known as the “Iri Ji or Iwa Ji” in the Igbo language is very similar to the American Thanksgiving. The Iri Ji is a thanksgiving festival to God for a good harvest at the beginning of the harvesting period. It takes place for about three days in different towns and kingdoms across the Igbo nation anytime between July and September. Since July through September is a long vacation (summer vacation) in Nigeria, schools are not in session. But because the Iri Ji is a town and kingdom-based celebration, it is not a work-free day for workers except, in some cases, for farmers.
The American Thanksgiving and the Igbo Iri Ji are very similar both in cultural origins and essence. American Thanksgiving is farmers-based in origin. It lasted for three days in the early stages of the holiday. In the same way, the Igbo Iri Ji was farmers-based and somehow still is. And it typically lasts for three days. Both fiestas focused primarily on thanking God for his blessings upon humanity. In his words, President Abraham Lincoln explained in the document that made the American Thanksgiving a national holiday that Thanksgiving is a time to render “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
So, yes. We celebrate thanksgiving in Nigeria – in the Igbo nation of Nigeria where I grew up. It is not as popular as American thanksgiving because it is not a national holiday like American Thanksgiving. Also, the Iri Ji is not celebrated at the same time across Igboland as the American Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the same day across the United States. Therefore, various cultures and nations around the world may have other names for their thanksgiving. But they indeed have celebrations like the American thanksgiving where the people give thanks to God for all the blessings of life.
It will be good to remind ourselves that this thanksgiving, we should be giving thanks to God for the many blessings he has given us in this life. The life we live, the friends and family we have, our Catholic faith, education, jobs, and businesses, and the many things we have and enjoy in our world today. All these are reasons to be grateful to our family and friends and especially to God. To express our gratitude, let us choose to stay away from our sinful and bad habits, forgive people who have wronged us, ask for forgiveness from people we wronged. Let us pursue peace and justice in our thoughts and actions. And finally, let us reach out to people and extend some goodwill, kindness, love, and compassion. May you and yours have a memorable thanksgiving this week. Amen.