This Thanksgiving, as you do your turkey-eating and football-watching, consider some harvest celebrations from around the world. Although Thanksgiving as we know it in the U.S. is only celebrated in our country, for thousands of years and in virtually every culture, people have found ways to give thanks for what they have. Wherever there has been a bountiful harvest, there have been grateful people looking to celebrate, and many of the traditions are surprisingly similar.
In ancient times, both the Greeks and Romans celebrated their grain harvest with festivals honoring the goddess of corn, known as Demeter to the Greeks and Ceres to the Romans. These festivals included sports, parades, and feasting — sound familiar? Today, in Greece, you may witness the Blessing of the Sea, which takes place at Epiphany, or the two-day November festival celebrating the olive harvest in Magione, Italy, which includes (you guessed it) a feast.
The Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, or the Feast of the Tabernacles, has been celebrated for three thousand years. Sukkot is a time to celebrate the bounty of the harvest and remember the years the Israelites spent wandering the desert. Traditions still upheld today include constructing a sukkah, or tabernacle, a branch waving ritual, and taking time off work to gather and feast with family, giving thanks for God’s blessings.
In Britain, ancient pagan harvest traditions which may have influenced the Pilgrims’ ideas of Thanksgiving, carry on today in a holiday known as Harvest Festival or Harvest Home, which is celebrated during the Harvest Moon, the full moon occurring closest to the autumn equinox. Today, the celebration includes singing, praying, and decorating churches with baskets of fruit and food.
In Asia, harvest festivals include the festival of the Autumn Moon, or Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated by ethnic Chinese and in Vietnam. Held during the time of the Harvest Moon, the festival is traditionally associated with moon worship. The popularity of moon cakes, filled pastries in the shape of a full moon, as part of the celebration reflects the festival’s origins even today. Like other harvest festivals across the globe, the Mid-Autumn Festival is characterized by the gathering of family and friends, sharing meals, praying, and giving thanks.
India has many harvest festivals, reflecting the diverse cultures and food crops within the vast country. In the Punjab region, Lohri is celebrated midwinter with the harvest of the sugarcane crops, and features gathering with friends and family for bonfires, singing, dancing, feasting. Further south, in Tamil Nadu, the Mattu Pongal festival celebrates the cows and bulls that make the harvest possible. There are special sport competitions, parades, and a feast that is shared together not only by all the people of the community, but also with the animals and birds.
Wherever you are and however you celebrate the good things in your life, know that the staff and artisans of Unique Batik are sending a big “thank you” your way!