Did you know that our American Thanksgiving is just one of many gratitude-related Thanksgiving traditions celebrated around the world?
Traditions differ from country to country, but gratitude in action is cause for universal celebration.
The spirit and significance of giving thanks is the same wherever you go — with or without roast turkey and cranberry sauce. So what does giving thanks look like around the world?
Celebrations worldwide of “thanks-giving” share several elements, no matter what people are eating, wearing or singing. We all honor:
- harvest bounty
- communal harmony
- gratitude in action
That last one, gratitude in action, is an important one. Simply thinking about gratitude isn’t a cause for celebration. It’s about how we act on our gratitude. We’re giving thanks, not having thanks!
The French word for Thanksgiving is action de grâce. Translated literally, then, Thanksgiving is a day for “actions of grace.”
Read on for six “actions of grace” traditions from around the world.
Our northern neighbors have a Thanksgiving, too (in Quebec it’s called Jour de l’Action de Grâce). It’s celebrated in October to account for the earlier harvest season brought on by cold weather.
The holiday has origins in early European harvest festivals and actually pre-dates the arrival of Pilgrims to the New World by 43 years. In 1578, English explorer Martin Frobisher landed in Newfoundland and hosted the first North American Thanksgiving to celebrate his safe arrival.
Other than date and history, Canadian Thanksgiving is similar to ours. Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving much like we do — with parades, family gatherings, turkey and pumpkin pie.
Germans, Swiss and Austrians all observe Erntedankfest (“harvest thanksgiving festival”), an autumn harvest festival held in rural areas in September or October.
Celebrations include church services, a parade, music, dancing and a country fair-like atmosphere. An Erntekönigin (“harvest queen”) is crowned with an Erntekrone (“harvest crown”). In some places, an evening service precedes a lantern and torch parade for the children, and even fireworks.
As on Thanksgiving, donations of food to the needy are common during the Erntedankfest observance.
Pongal, a four-day festival in southern India, is held in January to thank the sun for good harvests and mark the beginning of the end of winter.
The four days of the festival are filled with cleansing and renewal rituals and worship of the sun god, Surya. On one day, people throw their old clothes into a fire, get an oil massage and put on new clothes. Cattle also are bathed and dressed in flower garlands, and families clean their homes and use rice flour to decorate the floor with beautiful decorative patterns.
In the Caribbean island of Barbados, Crop Over is a weeks-long summer festival filled with pulsating calypso music, dancing, costume parades, craft markets and of course lots of good food and drink.
Crop Over dates to the 1700s, when Barbados was the world’s largest producer of sugar and people celebrated the end of the sugar harvest each summer with a big festival. The tradition was revived in the 1970s and attracts thousands of revelers from around the world, similar to Carnival in Brazil and Trinidad.
Among Chinese holidays throughout the year, the Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, is second only to Chinese New Year. The festival has roots going back thousands of years and is a time for Chinese to celebrate the summer harvest, appreciate the fullness and beauty of the moon and reflect on an ancient myth about a goddess who lives in the moon.
Giving moon cakes for good luck is a tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival. These round golden cakes are typically filled with lotus paste and stamped with a pretty design. With a little practice, you can learn to make moon cakes at home.
Yams are an essential part of the Thanksgiving feast here in the U.S., but in Ghana they’re cause for an entire festival of celebration! Homowo, or Yam Festival, honors the major crop of Ghana. The festival begins with a blessing and a ceremony to remember those who died in the past year, then breaks out into a dance party and ends with a large feast of special yam dishes and other goodies.
Homowo is a celebration of the Ga people’s triumph over a period of starvation and famine, so it’s tradition for Ghanians to playfully hoot ridicules at hunger while they enjoy their feast. The word “homowo” (homo – hunger, wo – hoot) translates roughly to “jeer at hunger.”
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