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We all know the (actually somewhat erroneous, historically) thanksgiving story of the pilgrims and their dealings with the Native Americans, who allegedly shared their food and showed the pilgrims how to farm, that they might provide for themselves, but thanksgiving day is hardly the only harvest festival celebrated in the world. Today, Vine Vera is going to take you on a virtual tour around the world by looking at a multitude of harvest festivals from a variety of cultures.
Yam Festival, Ghana and Nigeria
This festival gives thanks to the spirits of the earth and sky for providing a life-sustaining yam harvest. Yams are the first crop harvested, so this festival celebrates the beginning of the harvest season and the bounty it provides and is celebrated generally in August or September. In Ghana, the yam festival (referred to in the native tongue as “Homowo”) involves a feast where families bring dishes made from yams and other foods, and a parade follows the feast. In Nigeria, it starts with prayer, thanks, and food sacrifices to ancestors, and is followed by music, dancing, feasts, and public wrestling.
Canadian Thanksgiving, Canada
Canada actually boasts a thanksgiving holiday that predates ours by 43 years; in 1578, explorer Martin Frobisher held a feast to thank God for a successful journey to the area. Thanksgiving was a sporadic celebration for some time in Canada, but in 1879 it was made an annual holiday. The holiday always creates a 3-day weekend, and families will have feasting on any or all of the three days.
Ch’usok is Korea’s annual harvest festival, held in September or October, which begins with pilgrimages to family grave sites, to thank ancestors and leave offerings of food. Afterwards, families will have feasts including traditional treats like sweet rice cakes. Public celebrations follow, which include games and dances, with one dance in particular—known as the Ganggangsuwollea (“circle dance”)—is performed by a group of women, and has an interesting legend attached to it. The legend goes that in 1592, Korean women dressed up as Men and danced in circles to create the illusion that the Korean army was much larger than it was to scare off Japanese invaders.
This List is Not Exhaustive
There are loads of harvest festivals all over the world, and we don’t have nearly enough space to cover them all here, but we hope the few we did discuss give you an appreciation of the scope of the variety and uniqueness—but also of what we share in common—inherent to our world and the peoples who inhabit it.
Harvest festivals are common because the harvest season is something shared by all societies who rely on agriculture (which, these days, is the vast majority). It’s a time when farmers are rewarded for all their hard work, and it’s a time of plenty, when everyone will have more than enough food to eat, and having food to eat is something worth celebrating, even if we need reminding of that sometimes when we live stable lives in developed nations, where it’s all too easy to take food for granted, and even waste it.