Thanksgiving Customs Around the World
Giving thanks on Thanksgiving is an important American tradition, but it’s not just a tradition celebrated in the United States. In fact, seven nations of the world have officially declared Thanksgiving Days: Brazil, Canada, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Argentina and the United States. Thanksgiving celebrations have also been celebrated for hundreds of years, including some ancient cultures.
Each autumn, the ancient Greeks celebrated a festival of the harvest called “Thesmophoria.” Their goddess of corn and other grains was Demeter, who was honored at the festival. On the first day, married women built shelters out of leaves and created seating made from plants. On the second day, the women fasted; on the third day, they had a feast where they made offerings to the goddess Demeter to ensure a good harvest.
The Romans also celebrated a fall harvest festival in honor of their goddess of corn, Ceres (where the word “cereal” comes from). The Romans celebrated a Thanksgiving feast during which they offered pigs and the first fruits of the harvest to Ceres. Each autumn, their Thanksgiving was held on October 4.
The ancient Chinese celebrated their harvest festival, Chung Ch’ui, in accordance with the full moon that fell on the 15th day of the eighth month. They considered this day to be the birthday of the moon. Special “moon cakes” were baked and stamped with a picture of a rabbit to honor their belief that a rabbit was on the face of the moon.
The families ate a traditional Thanksgiving meal and feasted on roasted pig, harvested fruit, and “moon cakes.” It was believed that flowers fell from the moon during the three-day festival, and those that saw the flowers soon received good fortune.
According to the legend, Chung Ch’ui also celebrated another special occasion. China was conquered by enemy armies who took control and left the Chinese homeless and without food. Many people starved, so in order to free themselves, they decided to attack the invaders.
The women baked moon cakes, which were distributed to every family. In each cake was a secret message that contained the time for the attack. When the time came, the invaders were surprised and easily defeated. Now, moon cakes are eaten every year in memory of this victory.
Jewish families also celebrate a harvest festival called “Sukkoth.” This autumn festival has been celebrated for more than 3,000 years.
Sukkoth is known by two names: Hag ha Succot (the Feast of the Tabernacles) and Hag ha Asif (the Feast of Ingathering). Sukkoth begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, five days after Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year.
Sukkoth is named for the huts (succots) that Moses and the Israelites lived in as they wandered the desert for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land.
When celebrating Sukkoth, which lasts for eight days, the Jewish people build small huts of branches, which recall the tabernacles of their ancestors. These huts are constructed as temporary shelters, as the branches are not driven into the ground, and the roof is covered with foliage, which is spaced to let the light in. Inside the huts hang fruits and vegetables, including apples, grapes, corn and pomegranates. On the first two nights of Sukkoth, the families eat their meals in the huts under the evening sky.
The ancient Egyptians celebrated their harvest festival in honor of Min, their god of vegetation and fertility. The festival was held in the springtime, the Egyptians’ harvest season.
The festival of Min featured a parade in which the Pharaoh took part. After the parade, a great feast was held. Music, dancing and sports were also part of the celebration.
When the Egyptian farmers harvested their corn, they wept and pretended to be grief-stricken. This was to deceive the spirit, which they believed lived in the corn. They feared the spirit would become angry when the farmers cut down the corn where it lived.