The cherished annual celebration that is marked with turkey and pumpkin pie is unique to the United States of America. However, the concept of a holiday that is designed to give thanks and celebrate with family is one that is recognized in several different countries. In fact, many cultures around the world have been giving thanks since ancient times. Here is how different countries around the world celebrate Thanksgiving:
The Japanese recognize a Buddhist holiday called Oban, which is centered around honoring the memory of ancestors. Oban is a celebratory and colorful holiday, when the Japanese focus on appreciation and gratitude for everything that their ancestors have passed on to them. Obon is recognized with many festivals throughout Japan, which include drumming, dancing, and lighted bonsai displays. Families also traditionally bang pots and pans in order to invite hungry ghosts into their homes; ghosts who are in limbo because they have not yet reached Nirvana. The ghosts are offered food, then released and sent on their way with a procession of candle-lit boats in streams, rivers, or other bodies of water.
In the United States, the first Thanksgiving is said to have been celebrated by the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, which is present day Massachusetts. The feast was held in order to celebrate a successful harvest reaped after their first winter in America. According to the traditional story, the Pilgrims gathered with the Native Americans, who had made possible their survival during the difficult and very cold winter. President George Washington designated a period of several days as those of Thanksgiving, and President Abraham Lincoln later designated one Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday. Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated with a feast similar to the traditional American one. However, the date is observed on the second Monday in October. It has been observed at this time since 1879,and is celebrated to recognize a successful harvest.
The ancient Greeks were a polytheistic society, and the goddess of grains was Demeter. She was honored each fall with a festival called Thesmosphoria. On the first day of the festival, the married women of Greece (possibly because they bear children and are therefore connected with the process of raising and nurturing crops) would set about building temporary shelters of leaves and plants. On the second day, all of the Greeks fasted. The third day was marked with a great feast. During the feast, offerings were made to Demeter, including cakes, fruits, and pigs. The Greeks hoped that their offerings would coax Demeter to bless them with a good harvest again the next year.
The ancient Chinese celebrated their thanksgiving harvest festival, Chung Ch’ui, with the full moon that fell on the 15th day of the 8th month. In Mandarin, “chung” means middle, and “ch’ui” means autumn. This day was considered to be the birthday of the moon. To commemorate the moon’s birthday, the Chinese would bake special “moon cakes,” which of course were yellow and round like the moon. Each cake was stamped with the picture of a rabbit. It was a rabbit, rather than the face of a man, which the Chinese saw on the moon. Chinese families also prepared and ate a thanksgiving feast together, which included roasted pig and fruits. Today, Chinese families celebrate Chung Ch’ui by paying a visit to older relatives, visiting an ancestor’s tomb, cleaning and decorating their houses, and saying a special prayer at an altar or table in their homes. They also still make and consume the special moon cakes.