6 Thanksgiving celebrations around the world
The Macy's Day Parade, football, and Black Friday deals may be uniquely American, but giving thanks for a good harvest is a tradition that crosses cultures
Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, originated in the fall of 1621, when Pilgrims celebrated their first successful wheat crop. The holiday has since evolved into a day in which bickering families and drunken friends gather to consume massive amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, before lounging for hours in front of the TV or battling strangers during midnight Black Friday sales. But while all of that revelry seems uniquely American, we are not the only culture to celebrate a bountiful harvest. Here, a look at other agriculturally-based festivals around the world:
1. Canadian Thanksgiving
Our neighbors to the north actually celebrated Thanksgiving before Pilgrims even landed in Plymouth, Mass. When explorer Martin Frosbisher arrived in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1578, he celebrated with a small feast to give thanks for his safe arrival to the New World, an event that is now commemorated by contemporary Canadians on the second Monday of October. The earlier date is due to the fact that Canada's Thanksgiving is more aligned with European harvest festivals, which traditionally occur in October. In addition, Canada is farther north, which means its harvest season ends earlier than America's. But, besides the date, the celebrations are largely the same, with families gathering around tables piled high with turkey, stuffing, and pies.
2. China's Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
Like the American Thanksgiving, China's Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is a time for family and loved ones to celebrate the end of the harvest season with a giant feast. It is one of the most celebrated Chinese holidays, and is held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, around September or October on the Gregorian calendar. According to legend, the moon is at its brightest and roundest on this day, and may inspire rekindled friendship or romance. The festival's traditional food is the mooncake, a flaky pastry stuffed with either sweet or savory filling.
3. Korea's Chuseok
This day of thanks in late September and early October is one of Korea's three major holidays. It's a time for families to share food and stories, and pay respects to their ancestors. Along with a sprawling feast made from the fresh harvest, the main traditional dish is Songpyeon — glutinous rice kneaded into little cakes and filled with red beans, chestnuts, or other ingredients. The feast is laid out in honor of the deceased, and the family is allowed to dig into the tasty bounty only after a memorial service and, usually, a trip to the graveyard. But the three-day celebration isn't just about food and death. Other organized activities include dancing, wrestling, and dressing in traditional costumes.
4. Liberian Thanksgiving
The Liberian Thanksgiving takes its inspiration directly from the American version, which isn't surprising given that Liberia was founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from the U.S. They brought with them many of the customs they learned in the New World, including Thanksgiving, though they eat mashed cassavas instead of mashed potatoes, and jazz up their poultry with a little spice. The Liberian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday in November.
5. Ghana's Homowo Festival
This yam harvest celebration in Accra, a coastal region of Ghana, is meant to commemorate a period of famine in the Ga people's history. The word "homowo" means "hooted at hunger," which is what their ancestors did in the face of famine, before getting to work cultivating the land for food. Today, the festival occurs around harvest time between May and August. 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 that is often complemented by dancing, singing, and drum-playing.
6. The Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles
Sukkot is the third of the Jewish pilgrimage festivals, following Passover and Shavuot. All three mark different stages of the harvest, with Sukkot signifying its end. It is traditionally celebrated outside the home in makeshift huts, a symbolic reminder of the temporary dwellings Israelites inhabited during their journey across the desert.