International Celebrations of Giving Thanks!

Thanksgiving in the United States is celebrated on the 4th Thursday in November.  It is often thought of as a particularly American holiday because of the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians.  You will find, however, that most cultures, religions, and/or countries have some kind of a holiday that involves giving thanks.  Many of them are associated with harvest time.  Some of them are still celebrated as separate holidays. 

In ancient times the Hebrews had a feast at which they gave thanks to God for their harvest.  It was called Sukkot and Jews still celebrate it today.  The ancient Greeks had a harvest festival in honor of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest.  They brought gifts of honey, fruit and grain to her shrines.  The Romans honored Ceres, the goddess who protected their crops.  They called it the festival of Cerelia, and that is where the word “cereal” is derived.  For hundreds of years the Chinese have celebrated a festival of the harvest moon.  This brightest moon of the year shines on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar.  The festival is called the Mid-Autumn Festival.  The Vietnamese call this festival Tet Trung Thu.  Koreans celebrate it as Chu-Sok.  People in Southern India celebrate at least 2 harvest festivals, Onam in the fall and Pongal in the midwinter.  Onam is a harvest festival associated with the legendary King Mahabalia.  Pongol is the celebration of the rice harvest, the biggest festival of the year.  In England, the thanksgiving celebration was called Harvest Home.  It took place when the last field was harvested and the crops were brought safely to the barns.  Thanksgiving has also been celebrated in Canada for a long time.  It probably began many years before the Pilgrims landed in America. 

So when the Pilgrims did land in their new home on December 21, 1620, they already knew about the ceremonies of thanksgiving.  They had, of course, come from England and were familiar with the custom of giving thanks after the harvest.  So, one year later, after a year of terrible hardship and frighteningly little success, Governor William Bradford proclaimed the first day of Thanksgiving in the Plymouth Colony.  This was the feast day that many think of when we hear “the first Thanksgiving.”  It was the one shared with the Indians, who had helped the Pilgrims and introduced them to the native foods and strange farming practices of the New World.

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