Giving Thanks is Universal
While Americans celebrate Thanksgiving in November, many cultures around the world express gratitude for nature’s bounty with their own unique thanksgiving and harvest celebrations.
In August and September, Ghanaians mark the beginning of the yam harvest with the Festival of the Yams. Held in hopes of having plentiful crops in the coming year and averting famine, the festival brings villagers together to share huge feasts including traditional yam dishes. During the celebration, people rejoice by holding parades, drumming, and dancing and singing with animal masks.
For Israelis and Jews around the world the eight-day festival of Sukkot provides an opportunity to thank God for the harvest. Celebrated on the 15th day of Tishrei (between late September and October) families eat in outdoor structures called sukkahs to recall the period after the exodus from Egypt when the Israelites lived in huts in the desert.
East and South Asia
One of the most-important traditional holidays in East and Southeast Asian countries, also celebrated between September and October, is the Harvest Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival. In Korea, the festival is called Chuseok and Tsukimi in Japan. The festival coincides with the full moon on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, the time of the harvest. In China, families gather for picnics and eat round pastries called mooncakes. Lantern processions are held to give thanks for the harvest. For Koreans the celebration focuses on people visiting their ancestral hometowns, holding memorial services for the departed, and sharing a feast of traditional food such as songpyeon, which are small rice cakes.
Erntedankfest—“Thanksgiving Day” in Germany—falls on the first Sunday in October. During this religious holiday, giant woven baskets filled with fruits, grains, and vegetables are carried to church, blessed, and then distributed to the poor. Germans eat foods like those consumed during Thanksgiving in the U.S. However, the meal also includes mohnstriezel, a sweet bread sprinkled with poppy seed. After evening church services, the holiday culminates with a lantern parade and fireworks.
A popular Indian rice dish is also the name of the Indian harvest festival Pongal, which spans four days in mid-January. On the first day people pay homage to Lord Indra for providing rain for their crops. The second day centers on ceremonial worship during which rice boiled in milk (Pongal) is offered to the Sun God. Cows are honored and paraded around wearing beads and other decorations on the third day. On the last day of the festival, women wash a turmeric leaf, put it on the ground and place Pongal rice around it asking for prosperity for the household.
No matter where is the world you find yourself, there’s likely a day or several days set aside for giving thanks.