As much as we appreciate the Pilgrims' contribution to our holiday calendar, they are far from the first to set aside a holiday to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Here are some other thanks-giving holidays from around the world.
Held in September or October (October 3rd in 2009), Ch'usok is the Korean harvest and thanksgiving festival. The holiday starts with pilgrimages to the graves of one's ancestors, to give thanks and sacrifices of food. Families feasts feature sweet rice cakes and other traditional foods. These are followed by public celebrations with games and dancing. The circle dance, or Ganggangsuwollae, is performed by women. The legend behind the Ganggangsuwollae is the story of how, in 1592, Korean women dressed as men and danced in a circle to confuse Japanese invaders into thinking the Korean force was much larger than it actually was.
Thai Pongal is a Tamil holiday celebrated in southern India, Sri Lanka, and among Tamil populations all over the world, no matter what religion they follow. The harvest festival usually takes place from January 12th to the 15th, or a period at the end of the month of Maargazhi and the beginning of the month of Thai on the Tamil calendar. It is a time to thank the sun and the rain for a bountiful harvest. Farm animals are also honored. The word pongal means "to boil over". During the second day of Thai Pongal, celebrants boil rice, milk, and sugar together in a new clay pot. When the recipes boils out of the pot, everyone shouts "Ponggalo Ponggal!" to usher in prosperity. One the third day of Pongal, cows and bulls are decorated, paraded, and treated to special snacks. (image credit: HumanityAshore by Dushiyanthini K)
The Yam Festival is celebrated in Ghana and Nigeria to give thanks to the spirits of the earth and sky for the yam harvest. Yams are the earliest crop ready for harvest, followed by corn, okra, beans, and cassava. The holiday is held at the end of the rainy season when the yams are ripe, usually in August or September. In Ghana, the holiday is also called Homowo (To Hoot at Hunger). Families prepare yams and other dishes for a community feast, and young people parade behind a boy chosen to carry the best yams. In Nigeria, the celebration begins with prayers of thanks and sacrifices of food to one's ancestors, and continues with public wrestling matches, as well as music, dancing, and feasting. (image credit: oneVillage Initiative)
Thanksgiving in Canada
The first Thanksgiving holiday celebrated by Canadian settlers was in 1578, when explorer Martin Frobisher held a ceremony and feast to give thanks to God for a successful journey to Newfoundland and Labrador. This predated the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving holiday by 43 years. Thanksgiving holidays were held sporadically in Canada until 1879, after which it became an annual event. Thanksgiving in Canada is now held on the second Monday in October. As it forms a three-day weekend, family feasts are held on any of the three days. (Image credit: mathoov)
Succoth, or Feast of the Tabernacles, is a seven-day Jewish harvest holiday which begins on the fifth day after Yom Kippur. The word succoth, or succah, means booth or hut, which recalls the makeshift shelters used by the Hebrews as they fled Egypt. A family or synagogue might build a succah to use during Succoth. Othodox Jews spend the entire seven days in the succah. Men also go into the temple to give thanks and pray for a bountiful harvest. (Image credit: maxnathans)
There are many other harvest holidays all around the world. Some are religious and some are completely secular whether they involve gratitude or not. But we all love to get together with friends and family to eat while there is plenty of food!