Thanksgiving or what some may call “national turkey day” is celebrated in November to mark the celebration of season’s harvest. It is also seen as a great way for families to come together and count their blessings.
Most festivals are either country or community specific. Christmas and Hanukkah belong to different religions and are celebrated by the Christians and Jews respectively. Though many claims that they celebrate all festivals, one cannot help but acknowledge the connotations attached to them.
Thanksgiving, an American festival, is an outcome of the history of the country. Barring holidays like Independence Day, most countries do not have holidays like this. It is also celebrated in Canada but in October.
A few facts about Thanksgiving:
- Present day America is a melting pot of cultures and this migration began way earlier than we would imagine. The pilgrims who came to the country encroached the land from the native Americans and it is the former that we today consider as an average American state.
- This scattered nature of the country’s inhabitants led us to the true origins of the holiday which came from outside the continent. The reign of Henry VIII was marked by the days of fasting and Thanksgiving. Thus, the emigrants from Europe came with this tradition and made it their own based on the new environment.
- Among the most popular critiques offered against the holiday, the most widely heard one is that the holiday is a mark of how the new settlers pushed away from the natives. The harmony of the feast eclipsed the horrors faced by them and thus, this celebration is seen by many as a day of mourning.
Is the holiday truly secular?
The term 'secular’ is seen as this utopian ideal by many who fear most things scarred by religion and the subsequent division caused due to its practice.
We must keep in mind that in all technicality, the holiday with its origin in Virginia is secular in nature and a reminder of the history, be it positive or negative. Its foreign roots from the pilgrim beliefs are only a link and not a major chunk of its foundation.
Most importantly, the holiday isn't alone in its post-harvest celebration and has its companions in various regions of the world. The fact that we all know of Thanksgiving and not the others is testament to the hegemonic position of the US today. Even the Thanksgiving feast keeps in line with the 'American dream’ and gives an impression of the standard of living in the country.
Similar festivals around the world:
- Thai Pongal (India, Sri Lanka) - This festival is celebrated in the month of January according to the Tamil calendar and has a northern counterpart called 'Makar Sankranti’. However, a major part of it involves worshiping of the Hindu sun god which removes it from the secular category.
- Erntedanke fest(Germany) -The famous Oktoberfest is also similar to this big festival but here too, the church plays an important part in the festivities and autumn crops are seen at the church.
- The Harvest festival of Thanksgiving (United Kingdom) - Celebrated close to the autumnal equinox, the festival can be traced back to old times and thus, have strong ties with the church. It is accompanied by singing hymns and prayers of thanks.
While Thanksgiving isn't perfect, it comes fairly close to the secular ideal that we had talked about earlier. All cultures bring in certain beliefs of their own to their festivals yet Thanksgiving has succeeded in remaining a true holiday, celebrating modern-day United States with turkey and of course, American football.