Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving’s cultural cousins

Autumn festivals, including American Thanksgiving, East Asian Mid-Autumn Festival and Jewish Sukkot, celebrate family and the Earth's bounty in similar ways despite cultural differences. Of those three, Thanksgiving is the newcomer. The Pilgrims celebrated a harvest festival with the Native Americans in 1621. And their ancient Anglo-Saxon ancestors also celebrated autumn harvest festivals.

But Thanksgiving wasn't an official annual event until 1863 when President Lincoln proclaimed, “...set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

Thanksgiving was new, but may have had an ancient inspiration in Leviticus, a holy book to both Jews and Christians. In Leviticus 23:39, God commanded the ancient Israelites to observe the Feast of Booths, Sukkot in Hebrew, after crops were gathered.

During sukkot, celebrated this year from Oct. 12-19, observers worship, eat and even sleep in a sukkah, a flimsy booth representing the temporary structures the Israelites used after fleeing Egypt.

The celebration of the Mid-Autumn, or Moon Festival in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and other East Asian countries, also involves food and family and friends. During the Mid-Autumn festival, people come back home to be with their family. It's one of the biggest holidays in eastern Asia.

What are you most thankful for this holiday season?

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