Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November in the USA, is my favorite holiday since it’s a time to reflect upon what we're thankful for and to remember all the good things that have entered our life. It’s a day we share with family and friends with no expectations or the concurrent disappointments that inevitably follow on days when gifts are part of the celebration.
Yes, I know, it’s also a day to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, gorge on turkey and all the trimmings (which vary depending upon the part of the country), and fall asleep watching football.
Thinking about this holiday, I began to wonder if other countries had a similar day. I knew, for example, that Canada had their own Thanksgiving, but not anything about it or what other countries might have in terms of a day of thanksgiving.
Here's what I discovered:
Canada has been enjoying Thanksgiving since 1578, when Martin Frosbisher celebrated his safe arrival in Newfoundland. Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday in October. This represents the end of the harvest season and is similar in timing to European harvest festivals, which traditionally occur in October. The celebration is much like that of its American neighbor: families and friends meet around tables piled high with turkey, stuffing, and pies.
China: Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
China's Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is a time for family and friends to celebrate the end of the harvest season with a giant feast. It’s held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, which generally falls in September or October. It’s a 1,000-year-old tradition and a time for the Chinese to reflect upon their summer harvest, the fullness of the moon and the myth of the immortal goddess, Chang O, who lives in the moon. Mooncakes are given as gifts during this celebration. The festival is similar to Thanksgiving since it has the spirit of gratitude and abundant food.
The German celebration of Erntedankfest (The Harvest of Thanks) takes place on the first Sunday in October. Although not an official holiday, local churches organize a harvest festival that includes several fun activities including a Thanksgiving parade and a carnival with elaborate decorations made from harvested fruits and vegetables.
Chuseok is a 3-day holiday starting on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar (late September or early October). During this time, Koreans return to their hometowns to perform traditional rituals in memory of their ancestors. Families then visit and clean up the area around the tombs of their ancestors, before offering food, drink and crops to their lost loved ones.
Since Liberia was founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves, it's not surprising that they celebrate a day of Thanksgiving on the first Thursday in November. It is a day to give thanks to God and Americans for freeing the slaves and granting them Liberia in Africa to live as free men. Thanksgiving is also a chance to remember the good things that life has to offer rather than focus on the internal conflicts that often paralyze the country.
Ghana: Homowo Festival
Homowo is a yam harvest celebrated by the Ga people in the capital city of Accra to commemorate the pre-colonial famine that occurred in Ghana. The festival starts in May during the planting of the crops -- just before the rainy season begins. The word "Homowo" means "hooted at hunger," which is what their ancestors did in the face of famine, before getting to work by cultivating the land for food. During the harvest, women dig up the yams, the country's staple crop, saving the best for the festival dinner. The yams and food are blessed by local chiefs, and the celebration ends with a giant feast.
Israel: Feast of the Tabernacles
Sukkot has a double significance: one marks the end of the harvest time and the second commemorates the Exodus and the dependence of the People of Israel on the will of God. The holiday lasts seven days. The first day is a Shabbat-like holiday when work is forbidden. This is followed by intermediate days when certain work is permitted. The festival is closed with another Shabbat-like holiday called Shemini Atzeret.
Vietnam: Tết Trung Thu Festival
Vietnamese celebrate the Tết Trung Thu Festival (Mid-Autumn Festival) in September or in early October. It is also known as the Children’s Festival. The Vietnamese believe children are symbols of innocence and purity. Children light lanterns and perform lion dances as part of the celebration. This is the second most important holiday tradition in Vietnam.
United Kingdom: London's Harvest Festival
London holds a two-day Harvest Festival in October. It is organized by the Royal Horticultural Society and includes several activities including the Fruit & Vegetable Competition, which highlights the UK’s best growers and their best produce. Gardening tips, apple tasting and a giant pumpkin contest are other featured events.
Pongal is a 4-day festival celebrated January 12th through the 15th, to mark the beginning of the end of the winter season in India. The second day, Surya Pongal, is the most important day of the festival. On this day, people throw their old clothes into the fire, have an oil massage and then wear new clothes, to worship Surya, the sun god. During the festival, cattle are bathed, dressed and served pongal, women perform puja for the prosperity of their brothers, and families decorate their floor with decorative patterns using rice flour.
Barbados: Crop Over
Crop Over is a traditional harvest festival in Barbados. It begins in June and ends on the first Monday in August. It involves street parties, craft markets, food tents, making it into Barbados’ largest national festival.
No doubt I've missed a few. Let us know about the harvest or thanksgiving festivals that I've not mentioned.