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04.11.2011
Thanksgiving is not only about turkeys




There are three things that most people associate November with:
big feasts, great football and the start of Christmas shopping.
 
Talking about feasts the first one that comes to mind is the Thanksgiving day and no offence to Canadians and Europeans, but very few people in the rest of the world know about their Thanksgivings, when and how they are celebrated. This may lead to the conclusion that Americans just have invested more time and work in the PR and branding of their holiday, but I think there is more to that.
 
Harvesting festivals and thanksgiving celebrations originate from the ancient belief and fear of the powerful Gods and Goddesses ruling over nature and the crops. Before the establishment of formal religions many ancient farmers believed that their crops were holding spirits causing them to grow and die. Many believed that these spirits would be released when the crops were harvested and they had to be either pleased or defeated so they don’t take revenge on the farmers who harvested them. The Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, the Hebrews and the Egyptians had their own rituals and ceremonies, in which they showed their respect and appreciation of what they had harvested at the end of each summer.
 
Later in Europe, thanksgiving ceremonies became part of the church service and in the rural parts the festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest, and to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community. At the time, Native Americans had also celebrated the end of a harvest season and when Europeans first arrived to the Americas, they brought with them their own harvest festival traditions.
The story goes that in 1621, after a hard and devastating first year in the New World the Pilgrim's fall harvest was very successful and plentiful. The Governor at that time, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving that was to be shared by all the colonists and the Native American Indians. Since then the custom of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held after the harvest, continued through the years. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.
 
For many years now the Americans have turned Thanksgiving Day in a family and a turkey day. According to what traditionally is known as "The First Thanksgiving," the 1621 feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony contained turkey, waterfowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin and squash. Later Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and Benjamin Franklin, the so-called “First American”, had high regards for the wild turkey as an American icon. By 1857, turkey had become part of the traditional dinner in New England.
 
Thanksgiving or Erntedankfest in the German speaking countries doesn’t have the symbolic family-tradition-holiday meaning. There is no particular date for celebrating or making a feast with specific foods. In Germany for example the Catholic Church celebrates the Erntedanfest in October, always on the first Sunday of the month. The Evangelist church makes it on the Sunday after Michael’s day (29th of September). On those days the altars are decorated with fruits and grains. In Switzerland thanksgiving is usually on the third Sunday of September and it is known as the Day of Prayer and Repentance.
 
Tsitaliya Mircheva
 


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