Every year around this time, we here in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving. This got us wondering, do counties from around the world celebrate similar holidays? Well, we looked into it, and here are a list of 25 Thanksgiving/Harvest festivals from around the world.
Argentina: Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia
Taking place during the first week of March, this celebration of wine and wine-making has been going on officially since 1936. There are four main events that occur during this fiesta: The Benediction of the fruit, which takes place on the last Sunday in February. The Vía Blanca de las Reinas, where the women who have been elected as Reinas, or queens, parade through the streets in chariots. The Carrusel Vendimial, which is another parade of the Reinas, only this time they are accompanied by men dressed in Gaucho style outfits riding horseback, and dancers representing various provinces of Latin America. And finally the “Acto Central” or central act, which takes place in the Frank Romero Day Greek theatre and features over 100 performers and dancers. At the end of the show is a large fireworks display and the Queen of the Festival is chosen.
Australia: Apple and Grape Harvest
Dating back to 1954, this Stanthorpe festival (known then as the “Back to Stanthorpe Week”) lasts three days in March and is host to approximately 60,000 to 80,000 people. Some of the festivities include Seasonal Harvest Tours & Harvest Feasts where people can enjoy local cheeses and wines, a gala ball, a street parade, and even a celebrity grape crush.
Barbados: Crop Over Festival
Back in the 1780’s Barbados was the world’s leader in sugar. Every year they would hold a celebration signifying the end of another successful harvest, the “Crop Over” Festival. Once the sugar industry in Barbados declined, so did the festival, and in 1940 it was shut down completely. However in 1974, it was revived, adding more aspects from their culture to become the enormous festival they know today.
Brazil: Dia de Ação de Graças
Celebrated annually on the fourth Thursday in November, this Brazilian holiday borrows heavily from the American one. The Ambassador of Brazil was so fascinated by Thanksgiving in America, that he brought the tradition back with him and in 1949, the National Day of Thanksgiving was established by the President of Brazil, Gaspar Dutra.
This annual Canadian holiday dates all the way back to 1578 when Martin Frobisher sailed from England looking for the Northwest Passage. His group of explorers was suddenly separated due to harsh ice and storms but they were able to reunite at what is now known as Frobisher Bay. It was there that they began a sermon and thanked “God for their strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places”. Despite its long history, it took three centuries for it to be declared a national holiday in 1879 and it wasn’t until 1957 that its official date, the second Monday of October, was decided.
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China: Mid-Autumn Festival
The Chinese have been celebrating their harvests since the Shang Dynasty over 3,000 years ago. However, the Mid-Autumn Festival didn’t really gain popularity until the Tang Dynasty nearly 2,200 years later. Nowadays people use this holiday as a way to reunite with friends, hang paper lanterns, and enjoy delicious mooncakes while watching the moon.
England: Harvest Festival
England’s Harvest festival, which is celebrated every year in schools, chapels and churches, was only started in 1843. It is said the first modern Harvest Festival was started by Vicar Robert Stephen Hawker by inviting all his congregants to gather together to receive the “bread of the new corn”. This drew in many people who found their church had been decorated with flowers and fruit. Nowadays the church is still decorated as such, just not as extravagant. The night before, a dinner is held with all the congregants bringing homemade dishes to share. The festival’s date is set far in advance instead of waiting for the last harvest because now they have the use of machinery instead of manual labor.
In Georgia, this still-practiced, ancient holiday usually falls in late September in the east and mid-October in the west. Usually lasting for several days, the people celebrate Rtveli by starting their work very early in the morning harvesting their crops, then ending their day with a feast while listening to folk music.
Often celebrated on the first Sunday in October, Erntedankfest literally means “harvest festival of thanks” but unlike the Thanksgivings in the US and Canada, it’s more of a religious holiday than one spent around a table. A typical day starts around 10 am with a church service, a parade at 2 pm, music, dancing and food in and around the church at 3 pm, followed by an evening service at 6 pm then a lantern and torch parade with fireworks with the evening winding down around 7 pm.
This festival, beginning in May, is celebrated by the Ga people of Ghana. Homowo comes from the words “homo”, meaning hunger, and “wo”, meaning a jeer or a hoot. One year there was a severe famine when the Greater Accra Region saw little to no rain. When the rains returned, this celebration, which includes marching down streets with drums, face painting, singing, chanting and traditional dancing, was born. After the loud celebration, there is a thirty-day ban on drumming because the Ga believe noise hinders the growth of the crops.
The history of Mehregan is slightly different from the rest of the entries in the list. Not only did it start as a harvest festival in ancient Persia, it was also the time when taxes were collected. Any visitors to Persepolis from the rest of the Persian Empire would bring gifts for the king. To keep up with the extravagance of the ancient times, today people wear new clothes and a colorful, decorative table is set. When the ceremony begins at lunchtime, everyone gathers around a mirror on the table to pray and apply a traditional eye-liner. They then drink some Sherbet and throw handfuls of sugar plum and lotus seeds and wild marjoram over each other’s heads as they embrace.
Another one of the ancient festivals on our list, Holi dates back to the fourth century. Usually occurring in March, celebrations start with a bonfire the night before where people dance and sing. Then, the next morning is when all the fun mayhem begins. This, the Carnival of Colors, is for what Holi is most known. A giant free-for-all where everyone tries to color everyone else with powders and colored water. Squirt guns and water balloons are the preferred “weapons of choice”. It doesn’t matter who or what you are, rich or poor, young or old, friend or enemy, everyone is fair game. After the craziness, in the evening, everyone settles down, cleans off, dresses up and visits family enjoying delicious meals. Now this just seems like some good clean (relatively speaking) fun.
Falling five days after Yom Kippur, which tends to be around late September, early October, is the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Coming from the book of Leviticus, it commemorates the forty years the Jews spent wandering the desert while living in temporary shelters (or sukkot). These days for the holiday, synagogues usually build their own sukkah (the singular version of sukkot) outside, and in some of the more religious sects, people eat meals in them, and unless it is raining, the men will sleep in them over night.
Japan: Labor Thanksgiving Day
This holiday dates all the way back to the time of Emperor Jimmu who reigned from 660-585 BCE. In 1948, after World War II, the modern version was established and now takes place annually on November 23. As this is a holiday that commemorates labor and production and giving each other thanks, often times, grade school students draw pictures for the holiday and give them to local police stations as gifts.
This Korean holiday, which normally falls around September, actually has two possible origins. The first and most popular is that it came from Gabae, which was a month-long weaving contest between two teams. When the day of Gabae arrived, whichever team had woven the most cloth was declared the winner, with the losers treating them to a huge feast. The second theory, which many scholars believe, is that it comes from an ancient ritual worshipping the harvest moon. Fun little fact: In some areas, if there isn’t a harvest that year the worship is cancelled or postponed and Chuseok isn’t even celebrated. When it is, however, families visit their ancestral homes and have large feasts of traditional Korean foods (such as songpyeon) and rice wines.
Traditionally held on the first Thursday in November, Thanksgiving in Liberia started back in 1820 when the freed black slaves from America started colonizing the area. Their menu is a little different from ours here in America because the Liberians use tastes found in their region. They serve dishes such as mashed cassavas, green bean casserole, and roasted chicken, and sometimes even add a little kick to their dishes with peppers like cayenne.
Taking place at the end of May, this Harvest Festival has six stages, or ceremonies (Kumogos, Kumotob, Posisip, Poihib, Magayau, and Humabot). During these stages a ritual specialist will pick out and tie-up seven stalks of the best rice and scatter them all over the rice field letting the spirits know not to disturb the harvest. Then she will place more stalks in a basket, go into a rice hut with the basket and recite chants to tell the spirit Bambarayon to stay in the rice hut until the next harvest. Next, she empties the rice into the basket and recites more chants for the spirits to keep watch over the rice. And finally, during the last stage, there are tons of activities, lots of entertainment, and the Harvest Festival Queen is chosen.
The Netherlands: Dankdag voor Gewas en Arbeid
Many of the Pilgrims from the Plymouth Plantation stayed in the Netherlands before heading out on their voyage to the New World. In order to commemorate the kindness they were shown, a nondenominational holiday is held every year on the same day as the US Thanksgiving.
Nigeria: Argungu Fishing Festival
This annual four-day festival started back in 1934 to mark of the end of the hostility between the Kebbi Kingdom and the Sokoto Caliphate that had lasted for centuries. On the final day of the festival, thousands of men and women jump into the river and they have an hour to catch the largest fish with the winner taking home taking home up to $7,500 USD. There are some rules, however, as only traditional fishing tools are allowed and many competitors prefer to use their bare hands to catch the fish.
Norfolk Island: Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island was brought there by American whaling ships, specifically by tradesman Isaac Robinson. Robinson suggested they dress up the local church American-style, so they put up palm leaves and lemons on and around the church. After Robinson passed away the tradition became to tie corn stalks to the pews and tie flowers to the alter. Today the holiday is celebrated on the last Wednesday of November which means it either falls one day before or six days after the US Thanksgiving.
Philippines: Flores de Mayo
Spanish for “Flowers of May”, Flores de Mayo takes place throughout the entire month of May as the people of the Philippines honor the Virgin Mary by offering her flowers. The highlight of the whole festival is the parade called the Santa Cruzan where young women dress in extravagant outfits representing historical and biblical figures.
Portugal: Festas de Vindimias
Wine making has been a big part of Portuguese culture for over 250 years. Every year around September and October they hold the Festival of Wine. Men will carry the grape baskets on their backs while the women sing traditional songs. Another very popular tradition is grape crushing where everyone, including the visitors, can help make wine by stomping on the grapes with their bare feet.
Turkmenistan: Melon Day
The newest holiday on our list is Melon Day which takes place annually on the second Sunday of August. Established in 1994 by Turkmenistan’s then-president, Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov, it is a festival to celebrate the muskmelon, and more specifically the Turkmenbashi melon, which, you guessed it, was named after Niyazov. The muskmelon is a local product of Turkmenistan and is praised for its taste, large size, and aroma. Festivities take place in the capital city of Ashgabat and include dancing, music, and a large display of the melon in all its varieties.
United States: Thanksgiving
The “First Thanksgiving” between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans occurred in 1621 in Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts, but it wasn’t until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared that this national holiday was to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. While most recognize the Plymouth Thanksgiving as the first, Florida, Texas, and Virginia dispute this claim saying their settlers gave thanks for arriving in these new colonies first. Nowadays, families gather together for dinner and give thanks for all they have and watch the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City, and the NFL Thanksgiving games.
Every February, the Ngoni people of Zambia celebrate the first harvest of the year and the entrance of their people into Zambia in 1835. Twelve local chiefs travel to Mutenguleni Village with their best dancers, wearing outfits and headdresses made from animal furs, to perform a warrior dance for the chief. After watching and even dancing himself, the chief chooses the best group of dancers. He then drinks the blood of a cow as a symbol for the first harvest food, and to give his people his blessing to start harvesting and eating.