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Thanksgiving is one of the most American holidays I can think of. It is the holiday for gathering with the family, overeating calorie and sugar laden foods and watching football. Oh, and it is now also the sad beginning of Black Friday. “Yay consumerism!” she said sarcastically.
Anyways, most of us learned in elementary school that we celebrate Thanksgiving Day to commemorate the first gathering of Native Americans and Pilgrims who came together to share their collective fall harvest. The first Thanksgiving is said to be the first time that everyone in the area decided to set aside their differences and enjoy the bounty of a fortunate growing season. And for those who did not learn that in elementary school, there is always the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special on TV to fill you in. Thanksgiving nowadays in the United States is all about peace, grace and stuffing your face. All that may be true, but, did you know America is not the only country that celebrates a harvest feast every year?

Feasts and festivities similar to our Thanksgiving Day have been celebrated the world over for thousands of years. All these feasts are enjoyed by people within their own cultures and countries of origin and come with special traditions.

Let’s start this list with the ancient and thankfully forsaken holiday of Cerealia.

Cerealia (Ancient Rome)
The regular celebration of harvests with a large communal feast may have started in Ancient Rome. Cerealia was a holiday that was presumed to be celebrated in mid to late April for seven days. It was a tribute to the Roman goddess of corn and grain, Ceres. But, what we do know is that Cerealia was a time when when wine flowed freely for everyone. Much joy and merriment was had during the time of the Cerealia festivities. I read on Wikipedia that one of the traditions for Cerealia was to tie a blazing torch to the tails of foxes and let them loose to “race” in the Circus Maximus (The Ancient Roman Chariot racing stadium). For this reason alone, I am glad Cerealia went the way of the dinosaurs. Appalling as the abuse of those poor foxes sounds, you are probably wondering why that would be a tradition for the Cerealia feast in the first place? Well, I’ll tell you what Wiki told me. There is an ancient Roman myth about a boy who had discovered that a fox had made its way into the family chicken coop and killed all the chickens. Well those chickens were big part of his family’s livelihood. So the boy caught that fox and in a fit of rage, set the fox on fire so as to burn it to death while he beat it. Foxes are crafty and move fast, so the creature got away from the boy. While it was running for it’s life, it was still on fire. The fox ran through the family’s wheat field setting it all on fire. The goddess Ceres saw this and forever decided that foxes should be punished. Ugh.... traditions. But other than the fox burnings, Cerealia is really more of a happy time. Ancient Romans would offer sacrifices of grain and corn to Ceres. The citizens would also gather together and feast on their harvests and have dances and play traditional games.

Kinrokanshahi (Japan)
This two in one holiday is very special in Japan. The similarities between our Thanksgiving and Kinrokanshahi is that it is an official national holiday in Japan, however, they still do not get the day off from work. The day is observed around the same time of year as our Thanksgiving. It began as a fall harvest festival as well, except now it has evolved to a different meaning. We use Thanksgiving in the United States as a day to give Thanks for anything and everything that we are grateful for. Kinrokanshahi is a day to honor service workers, first responders and people in the medical field. Japanese children make “Thank You” cards and give them to the workers and then everyone goes home that evening and has a nice big meal. That’s is why Kinrōkanshahi translates to “Thanksgiving Labor Day”. The meal is much cleaner on the digestive tract as well because they eat foods like rice, seaweed and dumplings, instead of turkey, gravy and stuffing (or dressing ^_^).

Chuseok (Korea)
Chuseok is celebrated in both South and North Korea on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Chuseok literally means “Autumn Eve” and the holiday has its roots from the old Korean harvest festival of hangawi which is the “great middle of autumn. The lunar calandar plays a big part in many Korean holidays and festivals but Chuseok is all about that bountiful harvest as well as brightly colored Songpyeon. Songpyeon are small rice cakes that are the traditional food of Chuseok. They are made with rice, sesame seeds, chestnuts and beans. But that’s not all they eat. Koreans fill their tables with large spreads of delicious traditional foods that I cannot even begin to pronounce.

Chuseok is actually one of the biggest holidays on the Korean peninsula. This year’s Chuseok lasted for 10 days from September 30th to October 3rd. Talk about big deals! The importance of this holiday for Korens is basically the equivalent of our Christmas. Like our Thanksgiving and Christmas, South Koreans (I’m not sure about how it REALLY works in North Korea) go to their hometowns to visit with family.

There are many traditions that come with Chuseok, perhaps that most noteworthy of which is the wrestling. The old tradition of wrestling matches during Chuseok goes back a long time ago to a time, when it was worth it for the winner of the wrestling match to earn a bunch of rice for his family. While the men are doing all this wrestling, the women are participating in a special moon dance known as Ganggangsullae. They hold hands and dance in a circle. It traditionally was a dance only for women. The story goes that the dance was once used as a trick for Japanese invaders. The women were asked to gather and dress as men and dance in circles around the mountains so that the invaders would see them and assume that the Koreans had a larger number soldiers ready to fight; as opposed to the reality. And it worked!

Chuseok is also like our Memorial Day as well because during the early part of the festival, Koreans will participate in Charye by holding memorial services for their ancestors and loved ones who have passed.

Tsiknopempti (Greece)
MEAT MEAT and MORE MEAT! Vegetarians and Vegans beware! This is not the holiday for you! Tsiknopempti translates to: Smoked or Barbecued Thursday. It is a feast for carnivores as the tradition calls for cooking and consuming as much meat as possible. Can you imagine that beautiful barbeque smell wafting over the entire country of Greece? I’ll bet it probably attracts a few predators in the Mediterranean Sea. For Greeks who are not able to visit their homeland for this meaty day, Greek orthodox churches the world over will help to organize gatherings. Many Greek restaurants decide to get in on the all the hot tasty meat action too, serving up meat banquets and offering specials. So that means if you are looking for it, you can celebrate Tsiknopempti perhaps even in your own town! It is a fun and festive day a lot like Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and, well, Thanksgiving. It’s like those two days had a meat baby and Tsiknopempti is that meat baby’s birthday. Coincidentally, Tsiknopempti is also known as “Fat Thursday”.

Thai Pongal (Festival of the Tamils)
The Tamil culture is scattered all over the Southern parts of Asia. Tamil people are from countries Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan to name a few. A big part of Tamil culture is the holiday of Thai Pongal. Thai Pongal is a harvest festival about being thankful... sound familiar?

Thai Pongal is from January 12th to 15th which is also the end of the month of Maargazhi /beginning of the month of Thai on the Tamil calendar. They honor the sun, the rain and farm animals during this time; all things necessary for the harvest. The word pongal means, “to boil over” because the traditional thing to do for Thai Pongal is to fill a brass or clay pot almost to the top with rice, milk and sugar and then watch it boil over. When it does boil over, everyone yells, “Ponggalo Ponggal!” for good luck for next year’s harvest. Cows and bulls are also decorated during Thai Pongal with bangles and flowerings and colorful paints. The bovine are then lined up for a parade and then children and parents alike with participate in feeding the cows treats as they go by.

Thanksgiving (Canada)
OH CANADA! Our beloved neighbors to the north. Canadian Thanksgiving is almost exactly the same as ours. Except they celebrate theirs on on the second Monday of October and there is no Black Friday in Canada. The first Canadian Thanksgiving was in 1578. Martin Frobisher held a feast to give thanks to God that he and his crew had a successful pilgrimage to Newfoundland and Labrador. That means that the Canadian Thanksgiving actually our Thanksgiving by like, 43 years! So, which one is the TRUE and real Thanksgiving? You decide! / Issue 197 - August 2018
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