How is Thanksgiving celebrated around the world? In its essence, Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest, in which people band together and enjoy general merriment as well as food. However, the term "Thanksgiving" is really only used in North America. Thanksgiving is celebrated all around the world though, it just goes by different names and is celebrated at different times. However, the message is still the same—Giving thanks for a bountiful harvest.
So how do other countries celebrate their own Thanksgiving?
Harvest festivals have been celebrated long before the pilgrims even thoughts about landing in the new world. However, many of the harvest festivals have long since died out.
Ancient Egyptians used to celebrate their harvest festival by pretending like they were sad and weeping when they were harvesting their crops. By doing this, the spirits would not be angry at them for taking from the Earth. When the harvest was formally over with, the Pharaoh would parade through the streets, followed by an evening of music, dancing and an abundance of food. All this to celebrate Min the God of fertility and the harvest.
Romans celebrated their harvest festival of Cerelia on the 4th of October to honor the Goddess of grains: Ceres. They offered up sacrifices of pigs and the first fruits of the harvest to her. After which they would hold the traditional festivities of eating, drinking, singing and dancing.
The Greeks, in honor of the goddess of grains Demeter would hold their harvest festival every Autumn which was called Thesmosphoria. Like the Romans and Egyptians, this festival was held to honor Demeter and offer sacrifices and gifts to her in hopes for another good harvest next year.
15th Day of the 8th Lunar Month (September/October)
The Chinese celebrate Thanksgiving not with a private family meal but with a big festival. The festival itself has a few different names including the August Moon Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, or the Moon Cake Festival. The festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month on the Chinese calendar. On our Gregorian calendar this would be in September and sometimes early October, though it is always close to the autumn equinox.
During this time, friends and relatives give moon cakes to each other and enjoy festival activities like dancing and music. Moon cakes are sweet cakes that usually involve an eggy center. During the festival, many families will gather and go on picnics at night to enjoy the full moon. According to folklore, on this day you can see the moon maiden or lady on the moon. If you make a wish to the lady, your dreams will come true.
January 13 -16
India actually has a few harvest festivals at different times of the year depending on which region you are in. However, one of the most popular is Pongal in Southern India. During the four days of Pongal festival, starting January 13-16th, farmers give thanks for a bountiful harvest and honor the sun. This is quite the religious festival for Tamil people. Many cattle farmers decorate their cows and parade them through the village. Though each day of the festival has their own different way of being celebrated including eating special dishes or giving food to others.
This holiday is sometimes confused with the dish of the same name, which is a dish of rice and milk that is boiled.
The Friday to Monday after September 29th
Germany, too, has a Thanksgiving festival called Erntedankfest. At large, this holiday meaning harvest festival is only celebrated in the rural country. You know, where the crops are harvested. If it is celebrated in a city, it is usually part of a church service. Erntedankfest isn't quite the family gathering that North American Thanksgiving is.
The people of the villages who celebrate Erntedankfest gather in the village for days of games and festivities. The biggest highlight of the holiday is a parade on Sunday. However, in true German style, there is lots of beer and food as well as silly games like wheelbarrow races in strange costumes.
7 days from the 15th day of the Hebrew month of 'Tishri' (September/October)
The Jewish festival of Succoth or Sukkot is their harvest festival in which people express their gratitude for God and all the great things in their life. The festival begins 7 days from the 15th day of the Hebrew month of 'Tishri' which usually ends up at the end of September spilling into October on the Gregorian calendar. While American Thanksgiving is only a few hundred years old, Succoth has been celebrated for over 3000 years. What with being a religious festival, many people attend services at the local synagogues and sing hymns. During the festival, people would carry fruits with them to be reminded of how blessed they are in life. Large lemons called etrogs are carried in their left hands and a handful of leaves known as lulav, are carried in their right hands.
All the festivities are held inside a sukkah. A sukkah or a booth is built in the gardens, outside the homes of people during this festival. The roof of the booth is made from olive branches and these branches are decorated with fruits and flowers. Three sides of the booth are covered with gold and blue fabric. As per traditions, the meals are consumed in the booths which are decorated with fruits of the harvest. The tradition of sharing food among the family members and praying to the Lord plays a big part of this festival, just like the tradition of feasting in Thanksgiving. The families would also sleep inside the booths for all seven days as a part of ancient customs, thanking the heavens and indulging in merriment.
15th day of the 8th lunar month (September/ October)
Celebrated during the same time as the August Moon festival in China, the Korean harvest festival known as Chu Sok, Chuseok, or Hangawi is very important to Koreans. It is a day in which the people of Korea celebrate the harvest and show respect for their elders. They visit the ancestral homes of their families, offer prayers at graves, and gather to share a special meal in memoriam and to celebrate.
A favorite food during this day is Ttok, which is a rice cake made from the freshly harvested rice. Other traditional foods include freshly pickled fruit, mushrooms and a soup called toran-t'ang. After the feasting is done, the family will gather and play games like a tug of war sort of game played in a circle, wrestling, archery, or singing competitions.