The concept of Thanksgiving has been around much longer than the quintessentially American holiday. For thousands of years, countries and cultures have gathered to celebrate their abundant harvests, independence, and general good fortune by feasting, praying, dancing, and partaking in any other activities that make them unique. There are many variations of Thanksgiving throughout the world — some countries celebrate multiple versions of the holiday, and some versions of the holiday are celebrated by multiple countries. Here are a few of the biggest and most interesting.
- Also known as August Moon Festival, Mid-Autumn festival is deeply rooted in Chinese history and tradition. Ancient Chinese emperors would offer sacrifices to the sun during autumn, which was followed in spring by offering sacrifices to the moon.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), celebration of the event became more popular, and rituals such as planting mid-Autumn trees and performing fire dragon dances took hold.
When the moon emerges, men and women sip wine while reflecting on their happy lives and the people who’ve meant the most to them. Of course, the harvest — and the year-long struggle to make it — is celebrated with elaborate feasts as families discuss their offerings to the moon.
Encouraging warmth and family unity is the purpose of Chuseok, a holiday with a history that’s somewhat of a mystery. According to some texts, it dates back two millennia when it began as a festival in which teams of women would compete against each other in cloth-weaving contests.
The winners were rewarded with a great feast and enough alcohol to get them through the evening. The latter tradition has persisted through the years, and additional activities — such as a Ganggangsullae Dance for women and children, and archery and wrestling for males — have complemented it.
- Vietnam’s version of Mid-Autumn festival is also called Children’s Fesitval because it’s an opportunity for parents, who’ve been busy all year with the harvest, to make up for lost time with their children.
At dawn, a candlelit lantern procession commences, symbolizing scholastic success. As the day progresses, children make arts and crafts, participate in traditional Vietnamese dances, and take part in contests involving prizes and scholarships.
After the day has unwound, parents share native folklore with their children designed to encourage hard work and achievement.
Labor Thanksgiving Day gives hardworking Japanese the opportunity to not only rest, but participate in causes promoting the environment, peace, and human rights. Created after World War II to reflect the nation’s new constitution, it’s a modernized version of an ancient cereals festival, in which the Emperor would dedicate the year’s harvest to spirits.
As with other Thanksgiving-like holidays around the world, its primary purpose was to recognize the year of hard work.
- Yams have long been essential to survival for people in West Africa — cultivation began 11,000 years ago — as they’ve nourished tribes and nations for thousands of years because of their abundance and mere tastiness.
Occurring at the end of rainy season in Ghana and Nigeria, the sole purpose of the Yam Festival is to engender appreciation for the valuable root vegetable, which they ceremonially offer to their gods and ancestors to give thanks.
Afterward, they prepare them in traditional dishes and serve them to family and friends.
Belonging to the Dayak people native to Borneo, Gawai Dayak is a relatively new holiday that began in 1957 when an English radio program organizer hosted a radio forum, piquing the interest of local residents.
Ancient traditions are celebrated during the occasion, including Muai Antu Rua, a ritual for warding off the spirit of greed, and Ngalu Petara, a midnight procession for welcoming the spirit gods. Preparations for the events begin well in advance — the Dayaks don’t want to offer hastily made food to the gods of prosperity.
During the late 18th century, Barbados provided much of the world’s sugar. At the end of each sugar cane harvest, locals celebrated its significance by singing, dancing, and holding drinking competitions during Crop Over.
Temporarily disbanded after World War II, the holiday was revived in 1974 by members of the country’s tourist board.
Today, travelers from all over the world are invited to participate in rituals invented by Barbadian culture, including the popular competition between calypsonians, who perform their native Caribbean music for prizes and coveted titles such as “Party Monarch.”
One of Judaism’s most important holidays, Sukkot begins the fifth day after Yom Kippur, commemorating the children of Israel’s 40-year trek through the desert. Also called the Festival of Ingathering, Feast of Booths, or Harvest Holiday, it’s also a time for thanking the gods for a plentiful harvest and praying for rain in the coming year. It lasts seven days, with a festival of feasts and prayers occurring on day one, the most festive day.
Food is served in the sukkah, a temporary hut built for the occasion, where Orthodox families sleep during the holiday. During the holiday’s ceremonial blessings, four species of plants, each possessing its own qualities, are present to represent the different qualities in people, the reason they’re thanking god.
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