Today’s holiday knows no borders

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While origins and particulars vary, setting aside a day of thanks for bountiful harvests is a tradition pervading human history.

Ancient Egyptians celebrated the spring harvest by honoring their fertility god Min. Min’s festival featured a parade, music, dancing, and sporting events. Egyptian farmers wept when they harvested corn; they believed spirits lived within.

For 3,000 years, Jewish families have celebrated Sukkoth, an eight-day autumn harvest festival following Yom Kippur. Succots were huts which sheltered Moses and the Israelites as they wandered the desert for 40 years, and which are still reconstructed during the festival to feast under.

The Romans had Cerelia, an autumn festival dedicated to Ceres, goddess of corn (and origin of the word cereal). Their October feast also included parades, music, and sports. Ancient Greeks honored Demeter, goddess of all grains, with a similar autumn festival, Thesmosphoria.

Modern thanksgivings haven’t changed much. In Brazil, the fourth Thursday in November is a public day of thanksgiving beginning with prayer, followed by an autumn carnival and feasting.

Koreans return to their hometowns each autumn for Chuseok, a three-day feasting holiday to give thanks to ancestors, whose blessings are credited with good harvest and fortune. They traditionally eat Songpyeon, a crescent-shaped rice cake steamed upon pine needles.

Our Canadian neighbors celebrate thanksgiving on a three-day weekend in October. Their tradition began in 1578, when explorer Martin Frobisher held a formal ceremony in Newfoundland to give thanks for surviving his long journey.

Pongal — a three-day rice harvest festival — starts on Jan. 14 in southern India. Families thank God, the sun, and the cattle for their contributions to successful harvests. Pongal is also a sweetened rice dish.

In Kerala, India, Onam is a bit different. This 10-day fall harvest celebration is linked to mythology and the story of golden-age King Mahabali, whose self-sacrifice earned him immortality from Vamana, an incarnation of God. Hindus believe not in many gods, but in many incarnations of one god.

In parts of Africa, thanksgiving is in August. The Yam Festival begins at the end of the rainy season in Ghana and Nigeria. Yams are their first harvested crops.

Whatever the tradition, may our gratitude for all which sustains us endure year-round. Happy Thanksgiving.

• • •

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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