For most of my life I was of the opinion that Thanksgiving was a US Holiday. Traveling the world, I soon found, that people everywhere have holidays and/or traditions that offer thanks for the good fortune or a bountiful harvest of the year. Filppo (2011) suggests that the first thing you learn when you begin researching Thanksgiving traditions — in the Americas, in Germany, or elsewhere — is that most of what we “know” about the holiday is bunk. He feels that the first question to be asked is, “Where was the first thanksgiving celebration in North America? Most people assume it was the well-known 1621 harvest celebration of the Pilgrims in New England sharing a feast with their Native American neighbors, who had made possible their survival in the harsh New England wilderness.
But beyond the many myths associated with that event, Filppo has found that there are other claims to the first American Thanksgiving including Juan Ponce De Leon’s landing in Florida in 1513, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s service of Thanksgiving in the Texas Panhandle in 1541, as well as two claims for Thanksgiving observances in Jamestown, Virginia — in 1607 and 1610. US neighbors and friends the Canadians claim that a 1578 Thanksgiving on Baffin Island was the first (see below).
In the US, history indicates that America’s first President, George Washington (1732-1799), revived the tradition in America by designating special days for a national Thanksgiving. As the Revolutionary War veterans passed away, Thanksgiving as a holiday was lost for a number of years until President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), in the heart of the American Civil War, proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to be held the last Thursday in November on October 3, 1863. For almost 80 years it was simply a US tradition and simply done out of thanks for a good year until in 1941, when the U.S. Congress made the holiday official with actual legislation signed by Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945).
Fundoo Times (2011) indicates that thanking God for a bountiful harvest is not unknown in other parts of the world. Apart from America, there are a number of religions and countries that celebrate something similiar to Thanksgiving Day in their own various forms during the harvest season. The festivals are dedicated to thanking the Lord for blessings, abundance and prosperity. Many groups of people around the world give thanks, usually (but not necessarily) at a celebration following a major crop harvest.
Thanksgiving for the Ancients
The Ancient Greeks held an autumn festival for three days known as Thesmosphoria. It was celebrated to honor the Goddess Demeter, the deity of food grains. The festival was also related to fertility. Fertile married women would build a home for the Goddess to stay in the first day and equipped it with all the comforts of Ancient Greek society. These fertile women purified their souls and body by keeping a fast on the second day in her honor and then on the third day prepared a great feast. Since Thesmosphoria came around harvest season, the specialties of the table included first fruits of the season, plump pigs, seed corn delicacies and yummy cakes.
In Rome Cerelia was celebrated on October 4thannually to honor Ceres, the Goddess of Corn. Offering made to Cerelia included the first fruits of the harvest and pigs. Other highlights of Cerelia were a grand feast music, parades, games and sports.
The Chinese festival that resembles the US version of Thanksgiving Day is known as Chung Ch’ui. Chung Ch’ui is a three-day harvest festival celebrated on the full moon day of the 8th Chinese month and was believed by the Chinese to be the birthday of the moon. The specialty of the festival is its round and yellow ‘moon cakes’ with an image of rabbit on them. The Chung Ch’ui feast featured roasted pigs and first fruits of the harvest. A Chinese legend has that anyone who sees flowers falling from the moon on this day is blessed with a good fortune. An interesting anecdote to these traditional moon cakes suggests that during times when Chinese were surrounded by enemies, their women used these moon cakes to deliver secret messages in the name of their rituals and thus, helped the men to win back their liberty.
The Jewish harvest festival is known as ‘Sukkoth’. For more than 3000 years, the autumn festival also known by the names of ‘Hag ha Succot’ or ‘The Feast of the Tabernacles’ and ‘Hag ha Asif’ or ‘The Feast of Ingathering.’ This eight-day long festival is to remind the people of the hardships and sufferings of Moses and the Israelites while they were wandering in the desert for forty years. Succots were actually the makeshift huts or tents built of branches symbolizing the tabernacles of their ancestors. They were used to hang fruits from the roof of these huts such as apples, grapes, corn, and pomegranates.
The spring harvest festival of Egypt was dedicated to Min, the deity of vegetation and fertility. Its highlights were a parade headed by the Pharaoh, a gala feast, music, dance and sports. The most interesting and unique feature of the festival was the mass grief, weeping and howling by the farmers to trick the spirit of corn into thinking that they were grieved to cut the corn and thus, prevent it from taking revenge.
Unlike the American tradition of remembering Pilgrims and settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest. The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Northern America. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now Newfoundland, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and by some to be the first Thanksgiving in North America. Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies and Frobisher was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him – Frobisher Bay. Of course the harvest season falls earlier in Canada compared to the United States and, therefore, Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated on the second Monday in October every year very much like in the United States. thihs year it was celebrated by our Canadian colleagues and friends on October 10,2011.
How Turkeys Hear!
I know that you have been dying to learn how a turkey hears as this will be essential in bagging one in the wild for your Thanksgiving dinner. Although they do not have ear lobes or flaps to funnel in sound waves, the ears of hens and gobblers are small holes in the sides of their heads and they have very acute hearing. They can home into the calling of another turkey or a hunter, and pinpoint the source of the calls with remarkable precision, often up to a mile away. The sounds of slapping brush, heavy footsteps or the metallic click of a hunter pressing a shotgun’s safety can send a gobbler ducking for cover. There are hundreds of turkey calls and instruments that generate these calls that can be purchased to attract a turkey into your sights to bag a fresh bird. The rest of us will probably just go to the grocery store to obtain our turkey and not worry about how keen their hearing is or what turkey call to use!
Our Best wishes from Hearing International to all of our friends and colleagues from around the world for a bountiful harvest and a fortunate year whenever they celebrate!
eNotes (2010). Do all countries celebrate Thanksgiving. Retrieved from the World Wide Web November 20, 2010: http://www.enotes.com/history-fact-finder/holidays-observances/do-all-countries-celebrate-thanksgiving
Filppo, H., (2011). Many different Thanksgivings. About.com: Retrieved November 20, 2011: http://german.about.com/cs/culture/a/erntedankf.htm
Fundoo Times, (2010). Thanksgiving around the world, Thanksgiving world. Retrieved from the World Wide Web
November 20, 2011: http://www.thanksgivingworld.com/thanksgiving-around-world.html
Thesmosphoria (2011). Retrieved November 20, 2011: www.bard.edu/academic/specialproj/rituals/thesmo/oo.html