It’s time to give thanks, Cayman-style.
Cayman Thanksgiving is a celebration of all things Caymanian, and it’s just around the corner. Introduced two years ago, it takes place on the first Sunday of December with a weekend of festivities leading up to the big day.
This year, Cayman Thanksgiving falls on Sunday, Dec. 1, and the weekend kicks off with a homecoming concert on Friday evening, with a special farmers market highlighting Saturday’s events.
Anthonia Spencer, a founding member of the Cayman Thanksgiving Planning Committee, says the goal is for everyone to count their blessings – including the passage of hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30 – and to celebrate Cayman’s colorful culture and heritage. It is also a time to bring the community together.
“We have a mix of cultures and people from all walks of life. This is a day where we can all unite. It’s a time to set aside our differences and focus on our many blessings,” she says. “We’re encouraging everyone to come together as a family and as a community to give thanks.”
How it started
The idea for the celebration came from the younger generation – a 9-year-old girl, to be exact. Kayci Rose was learning about American Thanksgiving in school and wondered why Cayman doesn’t have a thanksgiving.
It’s a question she posed to her parents, Samuel and Elkie Rose, and the family decided to put on their own celebration.
“My wife, her best friend and my mother started to talk about how they could put on a special Cayman-themed thanksgiving for Kayci,” recalls Samuel Rose. “They challenged themselves to cook a traditional Caymanian meal completely with locally grown produce. It was while we sat around the table on that first thanksgiving Sunday in 2010 … that we as a family decided to share this with the rest of the community.”
Rose reached out to the broader community to see if there was enough interest to make Cayman Thanksgiving a national celebration, and it snowballed from there.
“It is our hope that on the first Sunday of December we will unite – Caymanians, expats, visitors – and celebrate all that’s good in Cayman.”
Spencer says Cayman Thanksgiving has grown tremendously since its inception, with more families, nonprofit groups and other organizations coming on board.
Among the groups involved is the Cayman Islands Tourism Association. CITA executive director Jane van der Bol says the weekend is an ideal way to promote the islands and its people.
“The biggest request of visitors to the Caribbean is to experience what the island has to offer – this is a wonderful way to celebrate our friendly people and share our gratitude of our many blessings at the end of the year,” she says.
“It benefits our island as more visitors experience us on a grassroots level and become friends with us, instead of just passing through. Hopefully the first-time visitor will fall in love with our people, our heritage, our culture and our islands, and come back over and over again.”
Food, family and fellowship take center stage in the weekend celebrations, which also provide an opportunity to explore Caymanian art and culture.
“The idea is to bring our culture and heritage to everyone so they have some idea of what is Caymanian and the traditions of yesteryear,” says Spencer. “It’s also helping those Caymanians who grew up not knowing what those traditions are. We really want to ensure our traditions don’t die. We want to preserve our cultural heritage and identity.”
Indeed, passing down Cayman’s heritage and traditions is a big reason Spencer got involved in the project in the first place. She wants her two young children, Terence and Eulaylee, to know their heritage and background. As Spencer’s husband Terence is American, the family celebrates American Thanksgiving, too, usually with a few Caymanian dishes thrown into the mix.
“I’m very much involved because of our children,” says Spencer. “They are half American and half Caymanian, and we make sure they are exposed to both sides.”
“Giving back” is the central theme of Saturday’s festivities, with a number of community service activities planned under the umbrella of “Charity [email protected]” A food drive will accept donations of residents’ unused canned goods from their hurricane supplies to assist the less fortunate in the community.
Organizers are encouraging service clubs and individuals to perform a charitable act to benefit the community – whether delivering groceries to sshut-ins, visiting the elderly or organizing a beach cleanup.
A special celebration is being staged at the Market at the Grounds, where the traditional Saturday farmers market will be transformed into a mini-agricultural show and family fun day. Visitors will be able to sample local food, crafts and produce, as well as stock up on ingredients to prepare some authentic Caymanian dishes for thanksgiving.
The Cayman Islands Agricultural Society, which represents commercial and backyard farmers, is an original partner of Cayman Thanksgiving. Administrative manager Kerry Forbes says it’s a natural fit.
“We saw this as an opportunity to continue to educate the Cayman community as to the products grown locally. As this was the traditional harvest time in the Cayman Islands, being a part of this celebration was a foregone conclusion. Food and farming go hand in hand.”
The mini agricultural show will provide a chance to get acquainted with the local farmers, meet up with friends and spend time as a family. There will be live music, a petting zoo and pony rides, as well as cooking demonstrations and tastings. The event runs from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission at the gate is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 12.
Forbes notes that the Cayman Islands always had a thanksgiving, though interest waned.
“It was traditionally called Harvest Time and it was celebrated … annually in our churches and among the islands’ families, as we shared with each other what the farms and backyard gardens had yielded,” she says.
“The farmers would bring part of their provisions to the church, which was decorated with the bounty of those crops and everyone gave thanks. It is only in recent times that this sort of fell off, and this is why I am happy to see this resurgence of giving thanks for all our many blessings.”
Thanksgiving Sunday is the heart of the celebration, and a time when family and friends gather for a traditional meal.
It’s also a day of sharing. Organizers are encouraging families to invite guests into their homes to share in the food and festivities.
“This weekend is a great time for families and local residents to pause and share with each other,” says Forbes.
“We honor our heritage, which is one of giving back and spending time with one another. As families are the backbone of any community, the fellowship that develops from this time, can only be beneficial to everyone who is involved as we once again remember where we are coming from and where we are going.”
Cayman Thanksgiving festivities
Friday homecoming concert
Cayman Thanksgiving celebrations kick off Friday, Nov. 29 with a concert at the Agricultural Pavilion in Lower Valley. “Homecoming” will feature local bands and Caymanian musicians, including the Swanky Kitchen Band, InVerse and Regeneration.
Gates open at 6:30 p.m.; fireworks at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for youth 12 and under.
A Cayman Thanksgiving weekend pass provides admission to both the concert and mini-agricultural show. It costs $20 for adults and $8 for youth 12 and under.
Both the weekend pass and homecoming concert tickets serve as a discount card for thanksgiving dinners on Dec. 1 at participating restaurants. Visit CaymanThanksgiving.ky and click on “festivities” for a list of participating restaurants.
Tickets are available at Cayman Cabana, Funky Tangs, J&M Electronics, Reflections and Winner’s Circle.