Top 10 ways to celebrate Thanksgiving—Armenian style!
November 27, 2019
From ghapama to telethons, Armenian Americans have very specific and distinct Thanksgiving traditions. How do you and your family celebrate this American holiday? Check out our Armenian Thanksgiving Guide (in two parts) and let us know how many points you tallied up!
The best of both worlds
We, Armenians, are a global people. With a diaspora three times the population of Armenia, it is safe to say that we far exceed the physical and figurative boundaries of our homeland. And as a global people, wherever we go, we embrace many of the local customs, holidays, and cultural idiosyncrasies—eventually putting our own unique spin on some of them. Armenians in the United States, for example, combine traditions of both cultures during the holiday of Thanksgiving.
This “Armenian Thanksgiving Guide”—part satirical/part informative— is split into two sections: Part I shows the various ways in which the Armenian-American community (as a whole) spends their Thanksgiving; Part II offers some ideas for respectively engaging in the holiday year-round, by learning about the people it is meant to commemorate: Native Americans.
Intrigued? Have a quick read; tally up your points, and let us know how many you racked up in the comments!
The Armenian Thanksgiving guide: Part I
1. Cook up a combination of American staples and Armenian classics, and, of course, the one dish that exquisitely combines the two: ghapama! This delicious pumpkin dish stuffed with rice, raisins, fruits, and spices even has its own anthem! (See step 2)
2. Break out the folk tune, “Hey Jan Ghapama”, and show off your best (drunk) dance moves. This version, by beloved Armenian singer, Harout Pamboukjian, has become synonymous with the dish.
Side note: The craziest place I’ve heard this song belted was at a Turkish-Arab-Kurdish-Armenian-mashup university party in London a few years ago. All we were missing was a surprise appearance by the Bearded Knafeh Bakers.
3. In addition to being a party favorite, “Hey, Jan, Ghapama!” is also a wonderful way to learn the very complicated, numerous types of family members that exist in the Armenian language. In the comments of this video, you can find an English translation of the lyrics.
After recovering from your hangover on Black Friday, pull out a pen and paper and try to write them down yourself, while scarfing down some leftover ghapama goodness.
4. Eat your big Armo-American meal with the Armenia Fund Telethon running in the background. Armenians from all over the world tune in to follow the live stream, where they watch live performances of famous Armenian celebrities and donate to the cause of the year, which has varied from the construction of roads, schools, hospitals, and water networks to digitizing archives and libraries throughout the Armenian homeland.
A bonus point if you donate! Triple bonus points if you’ve ever personally participated in the broadcast or organization of the telethon. (This one applies mainly to our beloved Los Angelinos Armos.)
Side note: When Boston-based Armenian dance group, Sayat Nova Dance Company (SNDC), performed at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade two years ago, many Armenian Americans added the parade to their lists, watching it alongside the 21-year-old telethon.
5. During commercial breaks (of either spectacle), each seated person takes a turn saying what they’re grateful for—bonus points if you do it in both languages! This feature of the holiday seals its universal appeal. Armenians are very family and community-oriented, so it’s no shocker that this tends to be the most enjoyable aspect of this American holiday.
Do you celebrate any of these Armenian-American traditions? Great! But what if you could enhance your holiday experience? This Thanksgiving, I invite you to learn more about the communities who lived on this land centuries before we did, and in doing so, feel a deeper appreciation to the lands which we both now call “home.”
Check out Part II of the Armenian Thanksgiving guide below!
The Armenian Thanksgiving guide: Part II
6. Look up your neighborhood on this virtual map, and learn all about the tribe(s) who lived there before colonization. Roughly, one could compare this to the Houshamadyan site, which attempts to recreate pre-Genocide Ottoman Armenian life and culture.
I can’t remember the last time I used a physical map. (Truth be told, I don’t think I could even read one anymore. File this under #millennialproblems.) But the creator of this map, a self-described white Canadian descendant of European settlers, has made it so easy that even I can manage. All of North America, Australia, New Zealand, and most of South America is included on the site. Which tribe(s) lived on your land?
7. Visit your local Native American museum or reservation to learn more about Native history, traditions, and to speak with Natives themselves. 500nations.com provides a directory of various Native American places, including historical sites and heritage centers, to visit in every U.S. state. Peruse the website and see if anything catches your eye! Just one hour from my house is the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, the world’s largest Native American museum. What’s in your ‘hood?
8. Watch this riveting, educational documentary on Native American food. You will be absolutely astounded to learn that nearly everything we eat today originated in the Americas: goodies like corn, potatoes, tomatoes, chili, squash, beans, vanilla, and cacao—just to name a few—are all indigenous to these lands. Just imagine how boring our food palates would have been without these staples!
After watching the documentary, try to find a Native food establishment near you. Quadruple bonus points if you succeed, since there are hardly a handful of them in the entire country! At the time of this writing, in all of New England (where the Thanksgiving holiday originated), there is only one Native restaurant—and that is the cafe in the Pequot Museum, which is only open at select times of the year. This fact is absolutely mind-blowing, considering how integral Native food is to almost every other cuisine on Earth today!
9. If you’re socially or politically-inclined, consider teaming up with some Native activists in your area to organize, and participate in, events together, such as these. Considering its massive popularity, our annual Thanksgiving telethon may be a great way to make cross-cultural strides, while also teaching each community about the other. And, after all, a holiday about feasting with natives should probably include natives, right?
10. The most obvious way to learn about Native American culture, of course, is to talk to Native Americans! If you don’t know any, consider attending a powwow (Native gathering), which you can find near you through this site. Ask questions and always be courteous. But remember that no one owes you a response; if someone doesn’t want to engage, politely move along. More often than not, though, people will be delighted at your genuine interest and desire to learn about their culture, so don’t be shy!
Though incorporating Part II into your yearly routine may double your list, the good news is that you don’t need to change much of what you do already. By no means should you gut the sacrosanct ghapama or Dzakh Harout (one of Harout Pamboukjian's nicknames. "Dzakh" means "left" in Armenian... and Harout plays the guitar left-handed!) off your list. All we ask is that, in addition to feasting and dancing, we all make a small effort to learn more about Native Americans and the true history of the U.S.’ most emblematic holiday.
So, eat that extra slice of pie and jumpstart your Armenian Thanksgiving today! Then, let us know your grand total in the comments!
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