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Thanksgiving’s Origins: Ancient Roots in Harvest Festivals

Ancient harvest festivals were celebrated to give thanks for a copious crop. The harvest was critical because its yield was the only food for the winter. If the harvest was good, there was more to be thankful for.

Ancient Civilizations and Celebrations

Greece

In Ancient Greece the center of the harvest festival known as Thesmosphoria, was the goddess of agriculture, Demeter.In the mythical story, Demeter’s daughter, Peresephone, was taken by Hades to the underworld. While there, she shared a piece of fruit with Hades. The gods did not like this and punished her by making her spend half of the year in the underworld. When she was in the underworld, it was winter. While on Earth, spring and summer.

As part of the festival, a feast was held. Pigs, seed, corn, fruit and cakes were offered to Demeter in the hopes that she would grant the people a good harvest.

Rome

The Romans celebrated Cerelia, a festival which was dedicated to Ceres, their goddess of corn (our word cereal comes from the name Ceres). The celebration took place around or on October 4th each year. Along with a feast, music, parades, sports and games were also enjoyed.

Egypt

In Egypt, the harvest took place in the springtime. The Egyptians celebrated their festival in honor of their god of vegetation and fertility, Min. The most important part of this ceremony was the symbolic act of the Pharaoh cutting the first sheaf, or bundle, of grain. This act insured that everyone would have plenty of food. The pharaoh also took part in a parade which was followed by music, dancing and sports.

Around the World

Modern Day Harvest Festivals

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a harvest festival. It derives from “matunda ya kwanza” which means “the first fruits of the harvest” in Swahili. “First fruit” celebrations take place throughout Africa in many different ways depending upon what area of the country a person lives. Kwanzaa is a combination of several different harvest festival traditions that was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Dr. Maulana hoped to bring the African-American community together by focusing on seven important values in African Culture. There are also seven symbols of Kwanzaa. The main symbol is mazao which are the crops of fruits, nuts and vegetables. It represents the main idea of African harvest festivals, that thanksgiving happens through a group effort by all of the people. This creates joy, sharing and unity.

There is a main feast called Karamu, which takes place on December 31. During the celebration, traditional African dishes are served and include yams, collard greens and hot peppers.

Sukkoth

Sukkoth is the Jewish Harvest Festival, according to familyculture.com. This festival is also known as The Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Ingathering. Jewish families celebrate this feast on the 15th day of the Hebrew month, Tishri, and it lasts for eight or nine days.The celebration of Sukkoth is 3000 years old. In the times of Moses,The Israelites wandered the desert for forty years seeking Canaan, now Israel. Since the Israelites were constantly moving, their huts, or sukkot, had to be light and easy. They were built out of olive branches and had three sides. Sukkot was the place where people worshiped and shared meals. Farmers also lived in sukkot during the harvest.

As many as forty-five other countries, from Africa to Zambia, celebrate thanksgivings. We all share the a common bond of thankfulness.

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