Did you know Thanksgiving has its own origins and history that goes much farther back in centuries than the 1621 Pilgrims feast, in fact there are various instances of thanksgiving observances in history.
As one of the biggest celebrated holidays of the United States, and as an American myself I can most assuredly say that from an early age, pre-school even, we are taught that Thanksgiving originated in the year 1621, when the English settlers (Pilgrims) and the Native Americans celebrated a three day long feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. While it is true that the Pilgrims held a Thanksgiving feast in the first year of their survival in America, the fact is feasts celebrating the end of the planting season or a good harvest existed well before the Pilgrims or the settlers even arrived in America.
What is the origin of Thanksgiving?
During the course of mankind’s history, harvest have been celebrated with festivals of giving thanks to stave off a bad crop which early on we’re thought to have been caused by evil spirits. To combat this many societies invoked their own deity with feast and offerings to give thanks in return for protection of their crops and harvest. For example…
The Roman harvest festival was called Cerelia, and was held each year on October 4th. It would include offerings of the first fruits of the harvest and pigs to Ceres, Goddess of Corn. Celebrations included music, parades, games, and sports along side a Thanksgiving feast.
Fun Fact: The word “cereal” comes from ‘Ceres’ the Roman Goddess of harvest and agriculture.
The Greeks held a similar harvest festival called Thesmophoria, in honor of the Goddess Demeter. The Greeks believed that it was because of Demeter the earth provided bountiful crops so they would honor her each year (starting in October and ending in November) with offerings and ceremonies in hopes of a successful harvest.
Fun Fact: Matrons once would symbolically relive the anguish of Demeter by participating in a three day rite. The first day, Anodos, married woman would ascend the hillside sanctuary of Demeter, Thesmophoros. There they built small two person leafy shelters. They would then furnish these with couches made from plants for sleeping. The second day, Nesteia, these women fasted and are thought to have also whipped each other with bark scourges. And on the third day, Kalligeneia, they held a night-time torch light ceremony commemorating Demeter’s torchlight search for her daughter Persephone.
Ancient Egyptians held a harvest celebration during the springtime in honor of Min, God of Vegetation and Fertility. It included a parade (in which even the pharaoh participated) and afterward a great feast complete with music, dancing, and sports.
Fun Fact: Egyptian farmers wept during their harvesting of the corn trying to fake-out the spirit which they believed lived within the corn. They pretended to be grieving out of fear that the spirit would become very angry with them for cutting down it’s dwelling.
Early Chinese also held a harvest festival known as Chung Ch’ui on the fifteenth day of August. Families would gather together for a thanksgiving feast of roasted pig, harvested fruits, and “moon cakes.” Each cake would have a rabbit stamped into it since it was a rabbit, and not a man, which the Chinese perceived to be on the face of the Moon.
Fun Fact: According to legend, blossoms would fall down from the Moon and those individuals who we are fortunate enough to see them will be rewarded with good fortune.
The Jewish celebrated their harvest festival known as Sukkoth, starting on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, five days after Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year. Celebrated for more than 3000 years Sukkoth has also been known as “Hag ha Succot” which means Feast of the Tabernacles and “Hag ha Asif” meaning Feast of Ingathering. The people would build huts made of branches where they would string up vegetables and fruits, including corn, apples, grapes, and pomegranates inside the huts. Then during the last two nights of Sukkoth, families would eat their meals in the huts.
Fun Fact: Sukkoth takes its name from succots, these are the huts in which the Israelites and Moses once lived as they wandered around the desert for forty years before reaching the Promised Land.
The British Isles as well as some other English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere still celebrate the harvest festival called the Lammas, between August and September first which marks the beginning of the harvest season. It is a festival to mark the annual wheat harvest, and it is customary on this day to bake and share a loaf of bread made from the new crop.
Fun Fact: In many parts of England, tenants were once required bring freshly harvested wheat to their landlords by the first of August.
The Canadians have three days to celebrate Thanksgiving which falls on the second Monday in October. And in Canada, the harvest season ends earlier in the year and is not as hyped up as it is in the United States.
Whatever the origin of Thanksgiving festivities, it is now a primary holiday throughout most of North America in which we show appreciation and thankfulness to God. I hope you enjoyed this trip back in time explaining the origin and history of Thanksgiving.Do you Know the Real Truth of the Origins of Thanksgiving? Click To Tweet
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Featured Image Photo Credit: NathanielParker
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