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A History Of Thanks

Oct 6, 2007
Sitting back in your recliner, watching a football game while you digest an amazing meal of turkey, veggies, bread and pie you realize Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays in the world. You think to yourself as you settle into a nap, "Whoever thought of this must have been a genius." But who did think of it? While we consider Thanksgiving to be a uniquely American holiday, the truth is harvest festivals similar to this phenomenon happened all over the ancient world.

Greeks and Grain

Ancient Greeks believed everything to do with the land came from the blessings of the gods and goddesses they worshipped. Demeter, a fertility goddess was honored every year at harvest time with a festival called Thesmophoria. This three day thanksgiving festival encourages married women to build huts on the first day and fill them full of grain and fruit to show their thankfulness for the abundance they have been given. The second day is set aside for fasting and remembering what life would be like without the gifts of food, and the final day is a village wide feast asking Demeter to bless them more with harvest and fertility.

Hebrew Booths

A practice in ancient Hebrew culture still celebrated today, Sukkot - known as the Festival of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths - is an eight day fall festival for giving thanks and tithes of the harvest. The Sukkot is a booth or hut similar to the huts Moses and the children of Israel used when traveling across the desert to the Promised Land. Each harvest these booths are rebuilt as temporary shelters and filled with fruits, vegetables and pomegranates (which are considered a holy fruit by the people of Israel). Families eat under the stars at the booths to honor the journey their ancestors took and bring hope and memory to the journey their lives are taking today.

Roman Cereal

Ancient Rome was a cacophony of festivals, rites and rituals stemming from the many gods worshipped in pagan Roman culture. Every October Rome would have the festival of Cerelia. This holiday honored the goddess Ceres, the goddess of corn. Interestingly the name for this goddess is where we get the English word, cereal. The festival was made of parades and lively music where people would bring offerings of grain and fruit to the temple of Ceres and leave them there as a sign of their thankfulness for the good harvest that had been and for the planting season to come. The idea was the more joyously you gave your offering to the temple, the more happy you were with the blessings you had received. In return, the expectation was that Ceres would be so grateful for the good things you had offered she would bless you with an even better harvest the next year.

While "turkey day" may always be an American way of life, the idea of sharing food and giving thanks is something the inhabitants of our world have been doing for a long, long time.
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