Founded in the 19th century by the United States, Liberia formally declared independence in 1847, becoming the first democratic republic on the continent. Among the many influences established between the two countries, Liberia is the only African country that officially celebrates Thanksgiving.

Liberia’s Thanksgiving is held on the first Thursday of November.

On Thanksgiving Day, Liberians go to Baptist churches and other places of worship, where fresh fruits of the harvest are brought to the church and auctioned following the service. After gathering in churches, they go home to feast, just like in the U.S.

Instead of having turkey and mashed potatoes, Liberians celebrate their Thanksgiving Day eating mashed cassava, chicken, jollof rice and other typical food from West Africa.

Liberians also gather for special concerts and dancing.

“I think there must be a lot to give thanks for. It’s been pointed out that we have enjoyed 10 years of peace. We have our ups and downs, hiccups, social problems. We are still trying to consolidate the peace. And I think when one reflects upon the past decade, there’s much to say thank you to God for,”  former national orator for Liberia Elwood Dunn told NPR.

Today, there are over 120,000 Liberian descendants and immigrants living in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.  Many have come in the past three decades, fleeing the violence and political turmoil that have torn the West African nation.

Some of them work to keep Liberia’s Thanksgiving tradition alive by cooking the food that is served in the West African country.  Many who grew up in Liberia or whose families came from the country said they were still wrestling with its history, in which settlers from another continent established control over an indigenous population. 

“Thanksgiving, I don’t know, it is always complicated for me,”  Bilphena Yahwon, an independent archivist in Baltimore told New York Times. “It gives an opportunity to celebrate and to engage in the food, and be reminded once again of the festivities of our culture. On the other hand, I know a lot of Liberians see Thanksgiving as a way to celebrate freedom, and even then I question it because it is like, ‘You wasn’t free. We still ain’t free.’”

She added that Liberia’s origin story needs to be interrogated further. For her, part of the reason Liberians celebrate Thanksgiving is because of colonialism.

“It was also forced on us.”

Liberia was initially a colony of the American Colonization Society, a group created in 1816 to send formerly enslaved people back to Africa. The society, which included both slave owners and abolitionists, was motivated by the belief that Black people could not be integrated into American society.