Thanksgiving an ancient tradition that spans the globe

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Thanksgiving is thought of as a quintessentially American holiday. It's thought of as a time filled with plenty of good food, family gatherings, parades, football games, pre-Christmas sales. But, thankfully, there's more.

For many, what's been trivialized into "Turkey Day" is a time to pause, reflect and genuinely give thanks for the blessings of the past year.

Americans have been officially celebrating Thanksgiving since 1863, the year President Lincoln signed a proclamation creating the national holiday. By then, many states were already honoring a day of thanksgiving each autumn.

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But did you know our all-American' Thanksgiving is actually tied to celebrations that go far beyond the confines of our nation's history and the boundaries of our continent?

In fact, celebrations of thanksgiving and harvest time can be found in the history of countries all around the world. Some traditions have died out over the centuries; others live on today.

Thanksgiving: Greek and Roman-style

The ancient Greeks worshipped the goddess of all grains, Demeter, who was honored at the festival of Thesmosphoria every autumn. The three-day festivals featured shelter-building, fasting and a time of feasting and offerings to Demeter. The Greeks held high hopes that such offerings would persuade the goddess to grant them a bountiful harvest.

The Romans had a similar fall festival honoring their goddess of corn, Ceres (from which our word cereal' comes). Music, parades, games, sports and a thanksgiving feast were all part of the annual celebration…shades of our modern Thanksgiving Day.

Celebrating the Rabbit in the Moon

In ancient China, celebrations of Chung Ch'ui coincided with the full moon that fell on the 15th day of the eighth month, considered by the Chinese to be the birthday' of the moon.

For three days, families feasted on roasted pig, harvested fruits and special round, yellow moon cakes', imprinted with the image of the rabbit (not the man) in the moon. Each night the Chinese watched for festival flowers to fall from the luminous orb high above their heads

a sure sign of good luck.

Today, the Chinese celebrate Chung Ch'ui to honor an ancient victory over their enemies

a victory won by secret messages baked inside tasty moon cakes.

An Ancient Jewish Tradition

Jewish families celebrate with a harvest festival called Sukkoth' that dates back over 3000 years. The celebration begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, five days after Yom Kippur, a fall holiday that is considered the most solemn in the Jewish calendar.

Sukkoth is named in honor of the huts, or succots', that Moses and his people lived in during their 40 years roaming the desert before reaching the Promised Land.

These small branch huts were easy to assemble and take down, providing perfect shelter for a nomadic people.

Today Jewish people build their own succots in memory of their ancestors. During an eight-day period, the temporary huts are filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Families eat their meals in the huts under an evening sky for the festival's first two days.

Thanksgiving on the Nile

The ancient Egyptians held an annual celebration in honor of Min, their god of vegetation and fertility. Unlike some other harvest festivals, the Egyptian celebration was held in the springtime.

A grand parade featuring the Pharoah himself, feasting, music, dancing and sports were all part of the annual event. Farmers celebrated fooling the evil spirits they believed were living inside their crops. A successful harvest meant the clever farmers had once more tricked the malevolent spirits, and that for another year, no one would go hungry.

The idea of celebrating a bountiful harvest with good food, family, parades and sports, and taking time to remember our forefathers

this idea of thanksgiving and harvest celebration isn't at all unique to America or to the Christian tradition.

It's a holiday people from all religions, races and nations can embrace and appreciate.