The turning of leaves and crispness in the air signal that autumn is officially upon us. With the advent of fall comes many holidays and opportunities to celebrate that for which we are thankful--our families, the food on our table, and our general well-being. Thanksgiving is a holiday as American as the apple pie sometimes served during it (for those who aren't big fans of the pumpkin variety), but did you know that it's not a holiday exclusive to the United States? We didn't either. Well, ok, we had a suspicion; we did some research and are here to share with you how people give thanks around the world.
Our good neighbors to the north, Canada, celebrate the Thanksgiving most resembling our own, right down to the turkey and pumpkin pie. The main differences between the two holidays are that Canada didn't officially start celebrating their day until 1957 and they hold their festivities on the second Monday of October.
Across the globe, Croatia celebrates what they call the "Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day" wherein they celebrate something all together different than the harvest. This holiday occurs August 5th and celebrates the seizure of the city of Knin by the Croatian army. Participants attend religious events and pay tribute to those who died in the war as well as the ceremonial lifting of the Croatian flag at the Knin fortress.
The island of Grenada also celebrates a Thanksgiving with a non-harvest-oriented affair. Their day, occurring October 25th, celebrates the 1983 U.S.- and Caribbean-led invasion of Croatia to restore peace. According to literature, at the time the Prime Minister and some of his cronies were deposed and unrest had ensued, requiring some outside assistance.
China celebrates the August Moon Festival on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, believed to be the moon's birthday. Mooncakes are served instead of pumpkin pie. According to legend, children can see a woman in the moon and make wishes to her to make their dreams come true. The cakes sound sweet, and the legend even more so.
In Vietnam, participants also celebrate on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Their festival, called Têt-Trung-Thu, is also know as Children's Appreciation Day. It is a popular family-oriented holiday wherein the activities and events of the day are planned around the children to show the family's love and appreciation for them. Best of all, the children participate in a lantern procession at first light. Mooncakes make an appearance at this mid-Autumn holiday as well.
Kwanzaa, which you may be more familiar with, means "first fruits" in Swahili. The seven-day event, started in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, begins December 26th and is a celebration of family, community and culture. Each day is based on one of the seven values of African culture: unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Celebrants of Kwanzaa agree these are values we should all share, regardless of whether we celebrate the holiday.
In South India, the celebration is known as Pongal, which is also a traditional sweet rice dish. The three-day long festival begins January 14th and includes a community feast for the entire town, an opportunity for households to do a big clean-out and an honorary day celebrating the village's cattle.
During Succoth, also known as the Feast of the Tabernacle, Jewish communities erect sukkots, or covered spaces with roofs of olives (and other) branches, to create a common place to feast and worship. This seven-day long holiday celebrates the Hebrew pilgrimage to Canaan (now Israel), during which they lived in temporary booths.
Korea, Ghana and Nigeria also hold harvest or autumnal celebrations of thanks. Really, there likely isn't any country or culture that doesn't give thanks at one point or another during the year. And, truthfully, what they give thanks for doesn't generally veer too far from what we celebrate in the states—food, family, togetherness, and the opportunity to pass on tradition.
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