Thanksgiving is generally considered to be a harvest-related festival. Ocktoberfest, a harvest festival at the end of the grape season in September that started in Germany, is a favorite of many throughout the world.
Canadians have celebrated a version of Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October since 1957. It originated as a day of celebration after King Edward VII recovered from a life-threatening illness. Now, it is “a day of general Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.”
In Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere, with its opposite seasons, the apple and grape harvest festival is in March. In India, “Thanksgiving” is celebrated in many areas, usually in August and by Christians under the name ‘Ladin’ or ‘Ladainha’, and means “litany to the Virgin Mary, intended as an expression of thanks for both material and spiritual blessings.
Other Asian countries such as China, Malaysia, and Korea celebrate harvest-related festivals on different dates. Each one has different folklore associated with the occasion. Harmony, peace, feelings of gratitude, etc. are the underlying themes of all the celebrations.
There are many different harvest festivals throughout the African continent, including the Jubilee Harvest Festival in Ghana, the New Yam Festival of the Igbo People throughout West Africa, and the Zulu Harvest Festival in South Africa to name a few. All give thanks for the current harvest and seek blessings for the coming season.
The United States has its own history. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians are reported to have shared an autumn harvest feast that is recognized as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. The underlying idea is based on the Native American or indigenous people’s tradition of “gifting” without expectation of return. For more than two centuries, different days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. Indigenous people consider the traditional story to be a “sanitized” version of the event, intended to cover up the brutality of the settlors in dealing with the native people. There is some evidence that this version first began to be taught in schools in the 1920s.
Universally, we all have reason to give thanks for the blessings and bounty of life at some point, often on an annual basis around the harvest season. Perhaps these occasions, including Thanksgiving, are a good reminder that the bounty of life for some is not bounty for all. Personally, I like the indigenous spiritual philosophy and association between bounty, gifting and gratitude. My Thanksgiving prayer for you is that you be the Gift and the reason for others to give thanks.