Thanksgiving History & Thanksgiving Around The World
Next to Christmas, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, as it was one of the few times of year my entire extended family (25+ aunts, uncles and cousins) got together in the spirit of fellowship. The family has shrunk over the years– my beloved grandparents and Uncle Steve passed on, while others became estranged– but we still look forward to our annual traditions, from watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to savoring my favorite dish, a pecan-crusted sweet potato souffle. So we thought it might be fun to learn more about Thanksgiving history and the various ways the holiday is celebrated around the world:
• Though the 1621 shindig between the Pilgrims and Native Americans is widely accepted as “the first Thanksgiving,” some historians believe that the first American Thanksgiving took place upon Juan Ponce De Leon’s landing in Florida in 1513, or Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s service of Thanksgiving in the Texas Panhandle in 1541. There are also two claims re: Thanksgiving observances taking place in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 and 1610.
• Pilgrims are typically portrayed in stark black and white clothing, with big buckles and hats. But buckles didn’t come into fashion until the late 17th century, and pilgrims primarily wore black-and-white clothes on Sunday. In reality, the women of that time dressed in red, green, brown, violet, blue or gray, while men wore white, beige, black, green and brown.
• America’s first President, George Washington, revived the holiday tradition in America by designating special days for a national Thanksgiving.
• The given name of turkey comes from the Middle Eastern country. The huexoloti (turkey) was an important food source for the Aztecs. When the Spanish invaders took the bird back to market in Spain, traders took the bird into what was then the world’s most powerful empire, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). There, the bird was bred to become more plump, like the turkey most of us eat on Thanksgiving today.
• As Revolutionary War veterans died off, the Thanksgiving tradition was lost in America for a number of years until President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, to be held the last Thursday in November, in 1863 (during the height of the Civil War).
• The cornucopia symbol dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The idea of a horn-shaped basket filled with fruit, flowers and other goodies comes from the Latin cornu copiae, which literally means “horn of plenty.” In Greek mythology, the cornucopia was an enchanted severed goat’s horn, created by Zeus to produce a never-ending supply of whatever the owner desires. Think of it as an unsexy genie, without the whole “3 Wishes” limitations.
• The idea of an annual harvest celebration also dates back to ancient Greece. The 3-day autumn festival known as Thesmophoria was celebrated to honor the Goddess Demeter, the deity of food grains. Fertile married women would build a home for Demeter to stay in the first day, purified their bodies and souls by keeping a fast on the second day in her honor, and on the third day prepared a great feast including seasonal fruits, plump pigs, corn delicacies and yummy cakes.
• For almost 80 years Thanksgiving was simply a tradition in the United States. It officially became a national holiday in 1941, when the U.S. Congress passed legislation signed by President Franklin Roosevelt.
• Canada‘s first Thanksgiving (celebrated the second Monday in October) can be traced back to 1578, when explorer Martin Frobisher– who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean– held a celebration on Baffin Island (present-day Nunavut) to give thanks to God for surviving the long journey from England through storms and icebergs.
• Korea‘s Thanksgiving celebration, Chu-Sok (“fall evening”), begins in August 14th and last 3 days. This annual harvest festival is celebrated to honor elders: Families visit the ancestral properties in their hometowns, and hold memorial services at grave sites of their forefathers. Afterwards, they have a special meal full of freshly harvested foods to give thanks.
• Observed October 25 on the West Indian island of Grenada, the national holiday known as Thanksgiving Day is unrelated to the traditional American celebration. Instead, the holiday commemorates the anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of the island in 1983, in response to the deposition/execution of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.
• Israel‘s autumn harvest festival, Sukkoth, is also known as Hag ha Succot (“The Feast of the Tabernacles”) and Hag ha Asif (“The Feast of Ingathering”). This festival, which lasts 8 days, reminds people of the hardships suffered by Moses and the Israelites when they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Succots were makeshift huts or tents built of branches that symbolized the tabernacles of their ancestors, and were used to hang fruits such as apples, grapes and pomegranates.
• Chung Ch’ui is a 3-day harvest festival in China, which is celebrated on the full moon day of the 8th Chinese month and was believed to be the birthday of the moon. The culinary specialty of the festival is round, yellow “moon cakes” (usually made with an image of a rabbit on them), and the Chung Ch’ui feast features roasted pigs and the first fruits of the harvest. Chinese legend holds that anyone who sees flowers falling from the moon on this day will be blessed with a good fortune.
• In Lithuania, the Nubaigai harvest festival tradition involves the communal creation of a harvest wreath known as a Boba, which is then wrapped around the worker who bound the last sheaf. The wreath is then carried on a plate covered with a white linen cloth. As the procession moves on, people who reaped the harvest sing an old song that tells of how they rescued the crop from a huge bison that tried to devour it.
• Germany’s early October festival is called Erntedankfest, or the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival. The celebration has a significant religious component, but, like its American counterpart, includes substantial autumn harvest dinners and parades. The Bavarian beer festival, Oktoberfest, generally takes place close to Erntedankfest. Hmm… maybe combining Oktoberfest and Thanksgiving here in the US wouldn’t be such a bad idea… –by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett
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