By Lisa Autz
Photo courtesy of Namwon030.
The calorie count of Thanksgiving can only be matched by the great deal of comfort and meaning that Americans hold to the annual ritual. The November tradition, which has evolved over the past 400 years, is emblematic of expressing gratitude with friends and family over a bountiful feast of turkey meat.
Long before the first moments in Plymouth, where the two distinct cultures of Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans came together, cultures across the world made it a point to commemorate their gratitude in feast-full ceremony. The August Moon Festival in China, Homowo Festival in Ghana, Chuseok in Korea, and Pongal in India are all different variations of occasions where locals offer thanks for abundant harvest, family, and health.
It turns out that dedicating festivities to expressing gratitude is a quite common–possibly universal–impulse of humanity.
With a parallel zeal of gratefulness, the Chinese celebrate a holiday called the Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival. Except instead of eating a meal inside, the Chinese take the festivities out of their domestic confinements to gaze up at the moon when it is at its largest phase in the lunar year.
The lunar holiday is the second most important festival in China after the New Year. On the 15th day of the eighth month on the Chinese calendar, families gather in celebration of completeness and unity by channeling their thanks to the full moon. The celebration dates back over 3,000 years to when emperors of the Shang Dynasty worshipped the fall moon to pray for a successful seasonal harvest.
Today, the two-day festival is celebrated with the consumption of moon cakes, small circular pastries that people gift to one another to convey their regards. All family members and friends gather outside, where they set food on tables and stare up at the sky. As they eat, they discuss the delightful (and delicious) splendors of life that take place under the great, big moon!
Hooting away hunger in Ghana
The Homowo Festival, or Festival of the Rains, is a harvest celebration by the Ga people from the Greater Accra region of Ghana. The origins of the festival are directly tied to the migration of the Ga into the Ghana territory. Homowo is the largest cultural festival in the country.
According to Ga oral tradition, a severe famine broke out among the people during their migration to present day Accra. They were inspired by the famine to embark on massive food production exercises that eventually yielded them a rich harvest.
Their dire situation was defeated as a result of their diligent efforts, so with great joy the Ga “hooted at hunger,” which is the translation of the word “Homowo.”
Families share the traditional kpokpoi meal in a common bowl, with everyone gathering in a festival dance called “oshi joo.”
The festival traditionally ends on a Sunday with a closing ceremony where friends and family visit, exchange the “Homowo” greeting, and amend disputes and misunderstandings.
Korean rice cake gratitude
The Chuseok Festival in Korea is based around bringing family together to be thankful and express respect for ancestors. Similar to China’s moon festival, it’s an ancient cultural practice that begins on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the moon is full and bright. Chuseok lasts for three days.
In the company of friends and family, Koreans typically consume songpyeon, a rice cake formed to hold sesame seeds, beans, and other traditional ingredients. The small rice cakes can be pink, yellow, or pale green, or are left white and steamed while sitting on a layer of pine needles.
Chuseok is a festival filled with traditional dancing, plays, games, and feasting. It’s celebrated in both North and South Korea–though less robustly in the North due to governmental restrictions.
Thanking the Sun God in India
“Pongal” is an important Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil people of the southern region of India. The four-day affair falls typically on the 14th or 15th of January and is an occasion for giving thanks the Sun God for bringing nourishment from the grounds.
This season produces some of the essential ingredients to traditional meals such as rice and other cereal crop, as well as sugar cane and turmeric root. Pongal–which in Tamil means “boiling over”– refers to a certain dish where rice is boiled with milk. The finished dish is then offered to the Sun God as thanks.
Tamilians speak the phrase “Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum” on Pongal, meaning that new prospects are open during this time of year. Family problems or miscommunications are also supposed to be solved on Pongal day. Weddings typically take place within these days because of the great economic wealth that comes from the cultivated harvest.
These Thanksgiving-like holidays are just a few of the different ways that societies across the world have creatively found ways to praise and give gratitude to deities, ancestors, Earth, and most importantly, good food.