Thanksgiving in the United States is like festivals around the world

Thanksgiving may seem uniquely American, but it echoes the fall festivals that have been happening around the world for centuries.

Like his Sukkot cousins, Chuseok, The day of the Dead and others, Thanksgiving focuses on recognizing the harvest, tasting abundant food, and spending time with family and friends. Harvest festivals began in the Agrarian Age, when crop yields could mean the difference between life and death.

A woman participates in a Day of the Dead celebration on November 2 in Mexico City. (© Hector Vivas / Getty Images)
“You can eat and celebrate without starving all winter long, and it’s time to celebrate after the harvest harvest work,” says John Turner, professor of religious studies and history at the University. George Mason in Virginia.

Unlike other celebrations, Thanksgiving focuses on an American origin story. In 1621, newly arrived pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe who taught pilgrims how to grow the crops they needed to survive shared what is considered the first Thanksgiving meal. In recent years, Americans have become more aware of the contributions of the Wampanoag and also that the holiday did not fully represent the relationship between English settlers and the Wampanoag and other native tribes – it followed almost 100 years of contact. with other Europeans. and the decimation of many tribes by conflict and disease.

Even at the first Thanksgiving meal, the settlers and natives were suspicious of each other, Turner notes.

“By 1675, the relationship had degenerated into a relationship of conflict and war,” according to the Smithsonian National American Indian Museum (PDF, 4.3 MB). “That would be the story of most Native and non-Native relations for the next two hundred years.”

Over the centuries, Americans, like people in other countries, have periodically celebrated the bountiful fall harvests and also marked religious days of “thanksgiving” for the blessings of their lives – such as the end of drought, recovery from illness or victory in battle. .

It wasn’t until 1863, during Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War, that Thanksgiving became a national holiday. The day “was meant to celebrate America, to be a rite of unification,” says Lucy Long, director of the Center for Food and Culture in Bowling Green, Ohio.

A woman observes the annual festival of Chuseok by placing a flower on an altar near the demilitarized zone separating North Korea and South Korea. (© Anthony Wallace / Getty Images)
Here are some of the global Thanksgiving cousins:

  • Chuseok, Korea is a big harvest festival that features fall foods like persimmon, chestnuts, and rice cakes called songpyeon. “It’s seasonal food the same way we in the United States have pumpkin, corn, and apples,” Long said. South Koreans go to their ancestral homes for a three-day family vacation. As in the United States, this is one of the busiest travel times of the year.
  • Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico began as an Aztec tradition but now coincides with the Catholic Day of the Dead. Families spend time together as they make food offerings to honor and connect with their ancestors.
  • Sukkot is celebrated by Jews around the world to mark the decades of the biblical-era Israelites in the wilderness, says Rachelle “Riki” Saltzman, lecturer in folklife at the University of Oregon. Like Thanksgiving, Sukkot celebrates the harvest and the past. “It says ‘This is who we are as a people,’” she adds.

A devout Jew holds the four plant species – palm leaves, citrus fruits, myrtle leaves, and willow branches – used to pray to mark Sukkot. (© Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images)
Americans today see the Thanksgiving vacation as a day with their extended family, Turner says. They watch parades and football games, shop at pre-holiday sales, donate to charity and participate in homemade feasts. In America’s melting pot, many immigrant families bring their own traditional foods (like Lao rice or enchiladas) to accompany traditional turkey and harvest vegetables. The heart of a vacation, says Turner, is family.

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