By Benita Mathew
Known to us as Thanksgiving, the day people eat a wholesome meal with the essential turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing on the side, with pumpkin pie for dessert. An annual day of appreciation, Thanksgiving is a trademark of American culture, embedded in its origin story. The story of how Pilgrims came together with the Massasoit and Wampanoag Native American tribes to share a meal evolved into a holiday to show appreciation for one another. However, people may not remember this story of how Thanksgiving came to be as a celebration of the harvest where Pilgrims honored their successful wheat crop in 1621 with a three-day harvest festival. This festival is only one of many harvest festivals celebrated around the world. Just as Thanksgiving is deep-rooted in its own strong traditions, people all around the globe also celebrate their culture with harvest festivals and extravagant celebrations.
Rice Harvest Festival – Bali, Indonesia
The Rice Harvest Festival is dedicated to Bali’s Hindu rice goddess Dewi Sri to celebrate the abundance of rice, the staple crop, at the end of the harvest season. During the month after Bali’s New Year in May, colorful flags are hung around villages and special bull races occur for the fun celebration. Water buffaloes are decked in colorful headdresses to compete. Sculptures of Dewi Sri and bamboo temples are placed in the most sacred rice fields to honor the goddess.
Mid-Autumn Festival – China, Taiwan, and Vietnam
This festival is a time for people to show their gratitude to the harvest. It is also known as the Moon Festival because the festival occurs on the day of the autumn full moon. Mooncakes are prepared to share with loved ones during the celebrations. Festivities include ceremonies to watch the moon and a special dinner with the family. Food offerings are made in honor of the moon and kongming lanterns are lit to symbolize the festival itself.
Yam Festival – Ghana and Nigeria
This festival occurs at the end of the rainy season in August to celebrate the first yams of the season, which is the region’s staple crop. During the festival, people hope that the harvest in the new year is strong and prevents famine. Large feasts, parades, and dances occur throughout the festival. The festival can last from one day to even continuing for a week or more.
Sukkot – Israel
Known as the “Feast of Booths,” Sukkot is celebrated five days after Yom Kippur. It is the Jewish festival to give thanks for the plentiful harvest, and it also commemorates the Exodus when the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before going to the Promised Land. People build a sukkah, a small hut, to live in during the eight-day festival to celebrate and remember their heritage. In addition, plants of willow, myrtle, palm, and citron are waved in a special ceremony directed by the mitzvah in the Torah to represent Jewish service to God.
Pongal – Southern India
Pongal is a four-day festival celebrated by Tamil-speaking people in Southern India. An important Hindu festival following the winter solstice, Pongal celebrates nature for its generosity of rice and the now longer hours of everlasting sunlight. Named after the Tamil word for “to boil,” the festival is celebrated with its traditional meal made with rice, milk, and dark brown sugar jaggery.
Olivagando – Magione, Italy
This two-day festival in November celebrates the feast day of St. Clement and the local olive harvest. This festival brings all parts of the olive oil production process together to watch a priest bless the newly-created olive oil at a special Mass during the festivities. Workshops, antique markets, art contests, and a fancy dinner at the town’s medieval castle are all popular events of the festival.
Incwala – Swaziland
One of the last festivals from ancient South African tribes still celebrated today, Incwala rituals celebrate the season’s first fruits and is important in cleansing and renewing Swaziland’s powerful kingship. Men travel to the sea in late December to fetch water and herbs to strengthen the king. During the six-day festival, branches from the sacred lusekwane tree are used to create a sanctuary place for the king. The king must taste the fruits from the harvest first; only after the king’s tasting can people enjoy the harvest themselves.
Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia – Mendoza, Argentina
Also known as the Grape Harvest Festival, the festival contains a month of festivities beginning in late February. The Archbishop of Mendoza blesses the harvest’s first grapes with holy water. It is a world-renowned celebration of wine with parades, fireworks and a beauty contest to select the “Queen of Vendimia.” The festival culminates with a dramatic show including over one hundred entertainers and performers where the Harvest Queen is chosen. This carnival-esque celebration attracts thousands of tourists to celebrate the land’s wine and fruit.
Chuseok – North and South Korea
Translated into “autumn eve,” Chuseok is an important three-day festival in North and South Korea that celebrates the good harvest. People visit their hometowns to enjoy time with their families, share dinner with traditional Korean foods, and pay respect to the spirits of their ancestors. It is important to remember ancestors and visit ancestors’ graves during this festival because the good harvest is credited to the ancestors’ blessings. This festival includes many traditional customs, such as folk games and dances, food and events.
Chanthaburi Fruit Fair – Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi’s annual fruit fair during the summer harvest puts the country’s thriving tropical fruits and vegetables on display. Chanthaburi is especially popular due to producing more than half of Thailand’s durian crop. Thus, this fair is sometimes called the Durian Festival in honor of its most popular fruit. The fair creates colorful array of durians, rambutans, longans, and mangosteens – all native to Thailand. A parade on opening-day of the festival features these exotic fruits and vegetables with floats made out of the harvest crops.