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Realising that there is always something to be thankful for is a sure way to remain positive and happy, especially in trying times. With everything that is going on in our country, it is easy to forget about the everyday gifts we have. A thankful heart is said to open one’s eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us. Hence, we feel establishing our own version of the American tradition of Thanksgiving could be just what South Africans need to keep the sunny side up.

Pockets of South Africans have taken to the American tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of every November – also the day before Black Friday.

Whether to show solidarity with American ex-pats they’ve grown close to, to experience the amazing food on offer, South Africans seem to like the idea of celebrating what we are grateful for.

It’s a healthy, positive tradition to adopt. But, we are South African, so we need to make it our own.

Understanding The Tradition

In the US and Canada, Thanksgiving Day is an annual national holiday that celebrates the harvest and blessings of the past year. The first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 saw the pilgrims sitting down with Native Americans, sharing the food they all grew together.

It originated in the early 1600s when a group of Native Americans saw how the pilgrims were struggling to survive the brutal northeastern winters. They taught them how to farm, build shelter and sustain themselves through the snowy winters.

American thanksgiving table
Traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

A massive Butterball turkey is the centrepiece of the table. Surrounding it are side dishes consisting of heavier in-season winter crops like mashed potatoes and butter, corn, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato casserole. There’s also stuffing, green beans and bread rolls to absorb all the gooey goodness.

“Traditionally we sit around a table and before the dinner starts, we say what we’re thankful for. It can either be a short sentence or a word or the matriarch or patriarch of the family could say something,” says Elisa Santamaria Myburgh, a US ex-pat living in South Africa.

Why Celebrate Thanksgiving in South Africa?

We are constantly bombarded by media reporting on corruption, conspiracy, crime, power outages, global warming, unemployment and the ever-present pandemic. It’s no wonder we feel like we have PTSD.

While all these are real existential threats to our democracy and personal welfare, it is essential that we take time off from the barrage of negative news cycles.

We need to chisel out a gap to celebrate the good in the world.

We need to chisel out a gap to celebrate the good in the world. This is a vital balancing mechanism for our psyche. It’s no surprise that successful life coaches, gurus and speakers across the globe advise this very activity.

peacefully ingnoring all the media hype

Gratitude helps us lift ourselves from the mental vortex of impending doom we are in. While most coaches will advise gratitude exercises daily, perhaps we could start by choosing just one day a year where we all let a little light in.

There’s a lot to be grateful for

South Africans have a lot to celebrate: Our long and beautiful coastline, a warm and sunny climate, incredible scenery and an abundance of wildlife. We are hard-working, friendly, resilient and our dry, sometimes-cutting sense of humour is known around the world.

South Africans like you and I have created brilliant inventions that changed the world such as Pinotage (SA’s signature variety cultivated in 1925), Sasol (the world’s first oil-from-gas company), the CT scan, the Kreepy Krauly, Dolosse (geometric concrete blocks that protect the shoreline from waves) and Pratley’s Putty (invented in 1969 and carried aboard the Apollo 11 Spacecraft). We are proud to be counted among these successful South African products.

All things considered, South Africa and its people, even if it’s just the ones you know, are worth celebrating. For that, let’s light the fires and raise a glass to what we have as we work towards our future dreams.

Pintotage wine is a south african invention
Pinotage | SA’s signature variety cultivated in 1925

Making The Switch

We’re sticking with celebrating what we are grateful for over a meal together with loved ones. But, that’s where the similarities end.

We are South Africa, we do it our way.

The Food

Americans may roast an oversized turkey in the oven, but we braai.

Let’s ditch the turkey in favour of crayfish and prawns, fresh fish, South African AAA beef and maybe a chicken flatty on the braai braaiing.

A delicious crayfish braai is hard to beat
A delicious crayfish braai is hard to beat.

We can’t miss side dishes, but pumpkin pie or yams are not on the menu. Keep it simple with a delicious potato salad. (Just for today, everyone’s potato salad is the best one). Take a different route with gruyere and chive potato skins (crispy potato skins stuffed with potato, cream cheese and cheese).

With an all-star meat dish and the mandatory potato side, it is time to add your best braai salad and/or veggie dish and a fabulous dessert to top it off. Try a beetroot quinoa salad with butternut, feta and rocket or a refreshing watermelon, feta and mint salad. ( Perfect for the heat)

You can’t go wrong with sweet potato wedges wrapped in bacon or good old roasted garlic with basil and thyme. Don’t forget warm, fresh bread, braaibroodjies or roosterkoeke and there has to be Mrs Balls Chutney on the table.

For dessert, think iconic South African sweet treats like milk tart, koeksisters, and peppermint crip tart. Malva pudding and everyone’s favourite after-dinner tipple, Don Pedro, would also be good additions.

The Wine

Contrary to what one might expect, traditional Thanksgiving dinner is not paired with warm reds. Turkey contains high amounts of tryptophan – an amino acid that is a precursor for the brain chemical serotonin, which is associated with sleep. Adding heavy red wines to an already heavy Thanksgiving meal simply makes people too drowsy.

We could probably stick with light summery options like Champagne, sparkling wine and Sauvignon Blanc but for very different reasons than the Americans. With sunshine in abundance and the warm caress of summer around the corner, we will likely avoid heavy meals that put us to sleep. Because of this, it’s always good to choose what suits you best. As long as the wine is kept cold. (clears throat, points to logo)

happy couple drinking wine on the beach for thanksgiving
One can be grateful for a simple glass of delicious wine and someone to share it with

Again, due to freezing temperatures in parts of the USA, dessert is normally served with a warming wine like Port, a glass of fortified wine or a nice warm brandy. But we are having none of that.

Champagne and MCC pair well with a huge variety of summer desserts. For some, they are the desert.


Since we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in South Africa, why not pour a glass of the golden effervescence South Africa is famous for?

We recommend a South African MCC like Nederburg Kaapse Vonkel, Pongracz Blanc de Blancs or one of the Silverthorn range such as The Green Man or The Genie. Any other suggestions?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below:

What would you call the day reserved for Thanksgiving in South Africa?

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