Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thanksgiving...Belizean style

Thanksgiving is such a delightful time of year, and I am blessed to be able to take part in the thanksgiving celebrations of two cultures, and I love them both! I wish I could combine the two into one wonderful package!

I was able to attend a couple of different “harvest services,” as they are called down in Belize, before I left for the States, but missed quite a few more that took place after my departure. In years past I think I have described a harvest service for you, but for those who are newer to our reader list, allow me to indulge in a fresh description.

On Saturday before harvest, the church members gather together to work on preparing the food for the feast. Often they kill a pig or two, but sometimes it is a cow, or they purchase chickens. The animal(s) are cleaned, the meat cut up and seasoned, and the skin is fried and eaten by the workers that evening (as well as some other parts). While them men deal with the meat, the women are busy wrapping poch, which is kind of like a meatless tamale, and eaten with the stewed meat.

At some point during the day, the church is decorated with fruits, vegetables, and sugar cane, giving a very festive "harvest setting for the big day.

Sunday morning finds everyone up early, finishing last minute details on their harvest gifts, and getting dressed in their nicest, sometimes even new, clothing. Most church members carry some gift for the church that will be sold after service to raise money for the church. The gifts are as varied as the givers: 100lb sacks of dry corn from their fields, pumpkins, sacks of oranges, cocoa beans, chickens (live), papaya, cassava, cakes, and host of other local produce that you would not recognize. Usually adults will bring their gifts in before the service, but the children present their during the service.

Often, a church will invite Nazarene churches from other villages to come, and perhaps some of the local congregations of other denominations.

At the beginning of the service the children make their presentations, hair carefully greased and combed, gifts adorned with hibiscus or other flowers, marching in an orderly row to the an appropriate thanksgiving tune, “Bringing in the Sheaves,” and “We’re Marching to Zion” being the most common. Once at the front, after the typical shuffling to get in the correct order, the whole group recites a scripture, sings a song, and shares what they are thankful for. “Thank you God for oranges!” “Thank you God for pineapple!” “Thank you God for my parents!”

After their presentation, they give their gifts, and march back, ready for the next group to come up. Depending on the host church, they may have several groups of presentations, sometimes going all the way up to the young people. I think these presentations are the highlight of harvest for most people, I know they are for me!

Usually each church in attendance is given an opportunity to participate in the service. This usually entails the adult members going up and singing a few songs and sharing testimonies. This can make for a very looooooong service (long = 4+ hours), but is encouraging, I am sure.

After all the preaching, any baby dedications, and whatever else might be included in the service is over, everyone eats together before the visitors travel back to their homes.

Somehow I come away from those services with a true sense of gratitude, as I have watched people who have so little bringing of their harvest to the Lord. It reminds me of the Christmas poem which says, What can I give Him as poor as I am, If I were a shepherd, I'd give him a lamb. If I were a wise man, I'd do my part, What would I give Him? I'd give Him my heart." It seems an appropriate thought for thanksgiving time as well.