Harvest Season Around the World
As Thanksgiving approaches in the United States, other cultures and people around the world are celebrating the harvest season with their own traditions. While some of these fall holidays preceded the American Thanksgiving, several shared the theme of giving thanks.
Fall is the harvest season when crops are gathered for storage and consumption during the coming cold months. Since ancient times, many cultures have celebrated and shown gratitude for the bounties of harvest season. Take this time to learn about a new harvest season tradition and think about the origins of your own.
In the U.S., we know the American tale of Native Americans and Pilgrims coming together on a cold autumn night to share food from both cultures. The Native Americans helped the Pilgrims get accustomed to the new land, and without such help, the Pilgrims wouldn’t have known how to best utilize native crops and animals or how to survive at all. But modern day American Thanksgiving can be described in very different words: football, turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, the beginning of the holiday and shopping season, being thankful, and family time.
In Canada, Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated on the second Monday of October since 1957. While it is more religious than the American tradition, Canadians still celebrate in similar ways. The three day weekend consists of parades, pumpkins, cornucopias, and other harvest-related festivities. Both Canadian and U.S. Thanksgiving holidays are national secular holidays with religious roots.
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, has spread around the world and is one of the most popular harvest festivals today. Originating over 3,000 years ago from the practice of moon worship, the Mid-Autumn Festival always falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth month on the Chinese calendar, which is in August and also the day of a full moon. This holiday is the second most important in Chinese culture, after Chinese New Year. At the Moon Festival you can be sure to find mooncakes (traditional pancake), Lord Rabbit (a human with a rabbit mouth and ears the icon of the festival), matchmaking (a skill of the moon god), lanterns, and dragon dances. Also celebrated in Vietnam and Taiwan, it has been a national public holiday in China since 2008.
Sukkot, a Jewish holiday, is celebrated with a feast, like Thanksgiving. In contrast to Thanksgiving, it’s a biblically mandated pilgrimage festival that lasts seven days. Sukkot is named after the huts the Jewish people create to represent the temporary shelters Israelites had to stay in while wandering the desert. Farmers stayed in the sukkahs, or booths, during the end of harvest before the rains came. Most of the Sukkot rituals are related to thanking God for the harvest.
There are a number of festivals in India to celebrate the harvest during different times of the year. One example is Pongal, celebrated in South India. Starting on January 14 and lasting for three days, the festival is named after pongal, a sweet rice porridge dish, which is offered to the rain gods and the sun. The last day of the festival honors the families’ cattle by cleaning it and dressing it up with flowers, bells and colored powder.
The celebrations in the other parts of the world vary dramatically. In Liberia, Africa, the Catholic National Thanksgiving Day and the Church’s Annual Harvest Celebration fall on the first Thursday of November. On the same morning as American Thanksgiving, the Dutch hold a Thanksgiving Day service in Leiden; the Netherlands celebrate the hospitality the Dutch Pilgrims received on their way to Leiden after fleeing from the English in the early 1600s. Ceres, the Goddess of corn, was honored with fruit, grains and animals while the people enjoyed sports, music and parades. No matter where you go around the world, there is always a way to give thanks and celebrate the harvest season.