Thanksgiving across the world

Across the globe whole communities give thanks for a range of reasons, although the most common are those festivals celebrating the gathering of crops.

Thanksgiving in America is a huge event, and is thought by many there to be as significant as Christmas. Family members travel from all over the country to be together, with food being central to the day’s festivities. The holiday can be traced back to the 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the religious refugees from England, known popularly as the Pilgrims, invited the local Native Americans to a harvest feast after a particularly successful growing season.

There are numerous ‘harvest festivals’ around Australia, and while apples, grapes, hops, oranges, cane and lavender all have their own individual set of celebrations, at different times of the year, it is perhaps the thanksgiving on Norfolk Island, celebrated on the last Wednesday of November, that is closest to it’s American cousin, and for good reason.

This holiday was brought to the Island by American whaling ships, specifically tradesman Isaac Robinson, who organised dressing he local church, American-style. They adorned the church with palm leaves and lemons, although after Robinson passed away this then became corn stalks on the pews, and flowers on the alter.

St Barnabas Chapel in Norfolk Island

St Barnabas Chapel in Norfolk Island

Further afield

In China harvest celebrations are over 3,000 years old, originating during the Shang Dynasty, although a mid-Autumn Festival didn’t really gain popularity until the Tang Dynasty, nearly 2,200 years later. As with America, the Chinese use this holiday as a way to reunite with friends. Celebrations include the hanging of paper lanterns, and eating mooncakes, while watching the moon.

Holi, an Indian celebration, dates back to the fourth century and usually occurs in March. Starting with a bonfire the night before, the real craziness begins the next morning. Participants try to color everyone else with powders and colored water, using water balloons and squirt guns, and everyone is a target. Holi is in fact the Carnival of Colors and following the mayhem, in the evening, everyone settles down, cleans off, dresses up and visits family enjoying delicious meals.

In late December, Swaziland’s men journey to the sea to gather water, so Incwala can begin. Branches from the sacred lusekwane tree are woven into a bower for the king, and only when he eats the first fruit can his people partake of the harvest.

Rice is Bali’s staple crop and Dewi Sri, the rice goddess, is venerated as a matter of course. Villages are decorated with flags, and simple bamboo temples dedicated to the goddess are erected in the upstream, most sacred corners of the rice fields, during the harvest. Small dolls of rice stalks representing Dewi Sri are placed in granaries as offerings.

Sukkot celebrates Israel’s harvests, remembering when the Israelites wandered the desert living in temporary shelters. Families build makeshift huts, or sukkah, with roofs open to the sky. Here they eat, and sometimes sleep, for the next seven days. Wands of willow, myrtle, and palm, together with a citron (a kind of lemon), are shaken every day in all directions to honor the gifts from the land.

In the 1780’s Barbados was the world’s leader in sugar production. A celebration, the month long “Crop Over” festival, would be held every year to signifying the end of another successful harvest, the. Once the sugar industry in Barbados declined, so did the festival, and in 1940 it was shut down completely, however in 1974, it was revived, adding more aspects from their culture and becoming the colourful festival it is today.

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