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Countries from around the world celebrate the holiday with their own unique traditions and observances
Few celebrations are as distinctly recognizable as the holiday of Thanksgiving. For most Americans, this is the one day a year to display cornucopia centerpieces, consume massive amounts of turkey and experience coma-like symptoms while lounging in front of a television.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, close to 46 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving. More than 3.5 million spectators watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person, while an additional 50 million viewers tune in via television. An astounding 226 million people went shopping on Black Friday weekend 2012, spending more than $52 billion collectively.
Yet while all of the revelry and fanfare seem uniquely American, we are not the only culture — nor were we the first — to celebrate with a day of thanks. Though we commemorate the Plymouth colonists of 1621, countries around the world have long celebrated traditions of bountiful harvest.
When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863, he only formally established the already global phenomenon of giving thanks. The following are some of the most notable harvest festivals around the world, according to the History Channel and The Huffington Post.
Canadian Thanksgiving — Though on first assumption we may believe that our neighbors to the north copied our traditions, Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada long before Pilgrims reached Plymouth. When explorer Martin Frosbisher arrived in Newfoundland, Canada in 1578, he celebrated with a small feast to express his gratitude for arriving safely in the new world. This event is now commemorated by contemporary Canadians on the second Monday of October.
China’s Chung Chiu Moon Festival — Like our own holiday, this festival is a time for Chinese families to celebrate with loved ones at the end of a harvest season. It is one of the most celebrated Chinese holidays, observed by feasting and fellowship. The festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar moon — September or October on the Gregorian calendar.
According to legend, the moon is largest and brightest on this day, thus inspiring the traditional mooncake, a flaky pastry stuffed with sweet and savory filling.
Ghana’s Homowo Festival — The yam festival is celebrated as a remembrance of a period of famine in the Ghanaian people’s history. The word “homowo” means “hooted at hunger.” Today, the festival is celebrated in May with yams as the primary dish. The feast is accompanied by Ghanians dressed in multi-colored togas dancing to ceremonial drums.
German Erntedankfest — This German festival is celebrated in September or October. The day begins with a sermon, followed by a procession where the traditional harvest crown is presented to the harvest queen, Ernteknigin. The day is further celebrated with music, dancing, and a bounty of fruits and vegetables from the harvest. Unlike the American turkey, chicken is the main dish of the German feast.
Korea’s Chuseok — Held in September or October, the Chuseok festival begins with a pilgrimage to the graves of ancestors as a symbol of honor and respect. Sacrifices of food are offered, and celebration is enjoyed only after the memorial services are complete. The traditional dish of Chuseok is Songpyeon — rice kneaded into cakes and filled with red beans, chestnuts or other ingredients. Public celebrations of games and dancing traditionally conclude the day.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, reflect on your own traditions and take time to remember the true purpose of the holiday season. While spending time with familiar faces, cherish the love and laughter shared around the food and festivities. Remember that the day is a day of grace, and take time to praise God for the blessings in your life — Thanksgiving is, after all, a word of action.