Holidays help aid cultural immersion

By Michael P Garrett

Since we were small children, we have been taught the importance of being thankful for the things we hold dear in our lives. As Americans, we devote an entire day to this idea on the fourth Thursday of November each year. Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to North America, although the idea of giving thanks can be seen worldwide.


On Nov. 28, Richard Carter-Brown celebrated his first Thanksgiving in the United States. No, he’s not a newly born baby; he’s South African.

When my sister told our family she was leaving the USA to study at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, we hoped she would come back with an education. Kate certainly brought back knowledge and experience from her trip abroad, but she also returned with a fiancé.

What a wild story, a South African and an American fall in love while in Scotland. Talk about a trans-cultural trifecta. After dating a few years, Kate Garrett and Richard Carter-Brown got engaged and eventually married on Nov. 23 of this year.

When Richard moved to the United States, he had to learn more than how to drive on the right side of the road. Thanksgiving was Richard’s first cultural test as a newcomer to the United States.

“There was a degree of not knowing how to celebrate,” Richard said.

He understood the concepts, eat turkey, watch the Macy’s Day Parade and football on TV, and spend time with family. But for Richard, it was hard to grasp when Thanksgiving, well, happens.

On Christmas, the excitement grows and grows until finally everyone opens presents. Or for the more religious folks, Jesus is born. Same thing with Easter, build up, then Christ resurrects. On Thanksgiving, all the build up is for what seems like just another family dinner.

“It’s all about just sitting down with family and having a meal,” Richard said. “We have nothing like it in South Africa.”

Transitioning from South African culture to American culture is a huge change. As Richard works on adapting to the American lifestyle, there are certain difficulties that face him, some smaller than you’d think.

Questions as simple as, “where do I go to buy a hammer?” surface each and every day.

“I’d like to think I’m fitting in but I think it’ll take a long time,” Richard said on his immersion into the United States.

Although Richard is working to become accustomed to American culture, he’s not the only one working to become familiar with another culture. Inadvertently, our family is working to become accustomed to South African culture.

Richard hopes to help us along the way. A holiday special to South Africa is Heritage Day. This holiday takes place each year on Aug. 25 as a way for South Africans to celebrate their heritage. In a country with a multitude of cultures, people celebrate Heritage Day in a bunch of ways.

Richard’s family has a massive braai, which is sort of like a big barbeque or cookout. The idea is to get family together to celebrate your roots.

On Thanksgiving, Americans don’t traditionally barbecue, since it is in the dead of November, but in a way, the ideas behind Heritage Day and Thanksgiving have similarities. The way people celebrate holidays around the world is pretty similar. A central theme of spending time with the ones you love and expressing gratitude for having them in your life is constant.

And now that the American tradition of Thanksgiving is under his belt, Richard hopes next year he can bring a sort have “been there, done that” attitude.

Besides, he loves the food.

“Turkey is always good and the corn casserole was also good, Richard said. “The pies at the end were delicious. I’m split between the apple and the pecan pie for my favorite.”

Yeah, well, he better like my world-famous apple pie best, otherwise he shouldn’t expect a Christmas present from me this year.


Richard Carter-Brown (second from the left) sings a hymn with his family before his first Thanksgiving dinner in the United States.


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