You might think Thanksgiving is as American as pumpkin pie, but the truth is it’s just a harvest festival. While not a lot of cultures celebrate Thanksgiving the way America does, many of them celebrate and give thanks for the harvest. Travel with us as we explore some of these festivals and celebrations.
Celebrations for American Thanksgiving take place on the fourth Thursday of November. It is an excuse to overindulge on food while giving thanks for the year’s events. Many families gather around their tables piled with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green beans and take turns telling what they are thankful for. Of course, you can’t forget the pie! The traditional choice is pumpkin (because the states are all about their pumpkin spice everything), but any flavor will do.
Japan’s harvest festival is titled Kinro Kansha no Hi, which translates to Labor Thanksgiving Day. It is a national public holiday celebrated annually on November 23 with labor organization-led festivities. In addition, children create crafts and gifts for local police officers.
In Liberia, West Africa, the celebration occurs on the first Thursday of November. Those of Christian faith fill their churches with baskets of local fruits and then auction them off before heading home to feast. Musical concerts and dancing have also evolved as part of their holiday traditions.
Having turkey is definitely an American thing, but other cultures eat birds for their harvest holiday, too. On the first Sunday of October, you can find most Germans participating in Erntedankfest, complete with a parade in which many baskets are filled with grain, flowers, and fruit. The baskets are carried to a church, where the food is blessed and then distributed to the poor. Once the church services are over, families return home to eat either a fattened chicken, a hen, a goose, or a castrated rooster.
The beautiful, three-day Moon Festival in China takes place in the middle of the autumn season when the moon is at its brightest and fullest. What was originally a series of prayers, poems, and offerings has become more modern as China celebrates by gathering around a table, eating, and reflecting on the importance of togetherness.
One of the longest harvest celebrations known as Pongal, occurs in southern India. The four-day-long festival is held in mid-January and contains plenty of rice, sugarcane, and turmeric. Each day has a different purpose and meaning. Day one pays homage to Lord Indra, the ruler of clouds and rain. Day two is the performance of puja, where rice is boiled in milk and then offered to the Sun God by participants who wear traditional dress. The third day, called Mattu Pongal, is the day for the cows, who are decorated and paraded around town to signal the start of the true celebration. The final day requires the woman of the house to wash a turmeric leaf, lay it on the ground, and place rice around it while asking for the house to always prosper.
Our final stop is Korea, where they celebrate Chuseok on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Chuseok emphasizes respect and commemoration of elders and ancestral roots. Often times, families return to their ancestor’s hometown for Charye (ancestor memorial services at home) and Seongmyo (when the family visits the ancestral graves). Foods eaten for Chuseok include songpyeon (rice cakes), hangwa (an artistic food decorated with natural colors and textured with patterns), and bulgogi (grilled meat). It is also common to drink rice wine for Chuseok, which is believed to help you not be afraid because it is what the ancestors drank. Gift giving, playing games, and dancing are also traditional parts of Chuseok.
Seeing how different cultures and countries celebrate their harvest season has been fun. What did you enjoy learning about? How do you celebrate this season of abundance and thanks? What is different and unique in your culture? Share it with us; we love hearing from you!
Written by: Marcie
Edited by: Jessenia
Design by: Judy
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