Harvest time has been an important event in human culture ever since humans began to cultivate grains, fruits, and vegetables. This was a time of year for people to gather the food which had been grown over the spring and summer, to put away food to carry the people through the winter months, and to give thanks for all they had.
Thanksgiving is a day celebrated in several different countries, not just in the United States. Countries like Brazil, Canada, and Liberia have a Thanksgiving holiday, as well.
In the United States, it’s believed the first gathering of people for a harvest celebration was held in 1621 between the Wampanoag Indian tribe and the Pilgrims who had immigrated to America the previous year.
That first year was tough on the settlers who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of a new land and new possibilities. Of the 102 who began the journey, only half made it through that first winter.
By the fall of 1621, the remaining people from the Mayflower had learned how to plant crops, like corn, and tap trees for sap, and catch fish. This was with the help of the local Indian people.
They threw a 3-day party to celebrate!
Historians are pretty sure that turkey and pumpkin pie weren’t part of the feast. Turkey didn’t become a staple at Thanksgiving dinner until at least 1863. (Check out our No-Turkey Thanksgiving Ideas!)
Most likely, considering what was available, the feast included venison, shellfish, ducks and geese. Corn, squash, and beans (also called the Three Sisters) would have made an appearance because the celebration was all about that first good harvest!
Thanksgiving was declared an official holiday in 1863. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday of November.
The official date for Thanksgiving was set in 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt.
In Mexico, people celebrate Thanksgiving much like in America with large gatherings, plenty of food, and much gratitude for their blessings.
Thanksgiving in Canada
Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October. This was a day chosen by their Parliament so the holiday wouldn’t overlap with other holidays.
The first recorded Thanksgiving celebration in Canada was way back in 1578!
It was a feast held by an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, and his crew to give thanks for safe arrival to the Canadian territory of Nunavut. It wasn’t anything fancy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, they recorded their feast as including salted beef, biscuits, and…mushy peas.
Their voyage had been filled with misfortune and plain old bad luck though. They decided that it was a special occasion, because they succeeded!
Global Harvest Festivals
Some harvest day festivals last for a day, like Thanksgiving. Others last for up to 8 days!
Sukkot is celebrated shortly after the High Holy Days and the New Year by Jewish people around the world. A special holiday in their faith, it goes back to the days of the Old Testament in the Bible.
Called the Feast of Tabernacles or the Festival of Shelters, this special day is all about giving thanks for the fall harvest and remembering the 40 years the Israelis spent in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt.
The name comes from the huts, or booths, that they built while they were in the desert.
Part of the tradition involves decorating the huts with fruits and vegetables. The huts serve as a gathering place to eat, and some people sleep in them through the week-long celebrations.
Another big harvest celebration is Chuseok in Korea involves celebrations with family, traveling to ancestral homes, games, and, of course, lots of food! Several party dishes are made from rice, which is a big staple throughout the country.
All of these East Asian holidays occur on days determined by the lunisolar calendar and on a full moon. The festival also features beautiful lanterns that decorate the night and light the way to prosperity.
Rice is also part of the harvest festivities in Bali, Indonesia. The Rice Harvest Festival is held at the end of their harvest season in May.
Villages are decorated to honor the Hindu goddess Dewi Sri. Then the people decorate water buffalos with fancy headdresses and race them through the streets!
The Oromo people of Ethiopia celebrate the beginning of their harvest festival, Irreecha at the end of the long and dangerous rainy season. The rains bring hardship to the culture, but celebration and thanksgiving are in order when the rain finally stops and harvest can begin.
One harvest festival that’s changed over the centuries is Samhain, more commonly known as Halloween. A holy day for the Celtic and Gaelic people, the celebration began in what’s now the British Isles and was imported to America with the settlers.
Harvest festivals are a fun way for people to get together and celebrate all that’s important to them. Discovering all the different harvest foods that are enjoyed all over the world is a great way to eat2explore and learn about different cultures!