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Thanksgiving around the world

by Martha Hales

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Giving thanks for a successful harvest is an ancient ritual - many of the world’s most prominent festivals have their roots in some form of thanksgiving for the bounty of nature.

The USA famously celebrates Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, with families across the nation sitting down to a table groaning with roast turkey, corn, sweet potato, green beans and pumpkin pie. To mark the occasion, here is our roundup of alternative thanksgiving festivals which take place all over the world.

Dia de Ação de Graças, Brazil, 4th Thursday in November.

After a spell in the US, a Brazilian ambassador was so taken with the Thanksgiving tradition that he imported it lock, stock and pumpkin to his home land. Brazil saw no reason to change the winning formula, and so the celebration continues to be honoured with vast amounts of food consumed at family get togethers all over the country, with surprisingly few Latin twists.

IranMehregan, Iran. 2nd October.

This pre-Islamic festival is widely believed to have ancient origins, and it certainly owes part of its provenance to Zoroastrian traditions. Mehregan is known to have been celebrated in style at Persepolis as a festival of thanksgiving for the harvest and to the king. However, it was also the period of tax collection which may have dampened the party spirit a little. Modern Mehregan celebrations involve new outfits and a lavishly decorated table. Laden with apples, pomegranates, dried herbs, flowers, silver coins and a frankincense oil burner, it’s a decadent display. Elaborate rituals include applying eyeliner before eating, drinking sherbet and scattering seeds over relative’s heads.

VietnamMid-Autumn Festival, China and Vietnam. Late September/Early October.

This festival is also known as the Harvest Moon Festival, and as it is a celebration of the full moon. It is a moveable feast falling on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese lunar calendar. This is an occasion of huge importance in China - second only to Chinese New Year - marking the end of the rice harvest. Thanks are offered to the moon in the form of food, and worship. Today the festival is celebrated by gathering with friends and relatives, often in an outdoor setting, to give and eat sweet treats, light lanterns and indulge in a spot of moon-gazing.

Homowo, Ghana, May.

The translation of Homowo - to jeer or hoot at hunger - gives a clue to the origins of this festival. Following a drought, crops failed and famine swept through the Ga people of Ghana. The festival was born out of a desire to celebrate and give thanks when the rains returned and the harvest was a success. Dancing, drumming, parading and planting of maize seeds mark the start of the festival, followed by a month when drumming is forbidden as it is thought to inhibit cropping.

Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia, Mendoza - Argentina, early March.

Officially 80 years old this year, though with origins stretching back over 300 years, this festival offers thanks for the grape harvest and is a major event on the Argentinian calendar. Following the blessing of the fruit on the last sunday in February, the first friday in March sees the ‘Reinas’ or beauty queens, one from each of the 18 departments of Mendoza Province, processing through Mendoza on decorative chariots. The procession expands with the addition of dancers and gauchos for the Saturday morning parade.The event finishes with the crowning of the Queen of the festival and an impressive firework display.

Rtveli, Georgia, late September to early October.

Wine is truly the lifeblood of this charming country and has been for over eight millennia. Thanks for the harvest is a natural culmination of a year’s work and celebrations large and small take place all over the country. Most are local and simple occasions, celebrated in families and farms by feasting, drinking the precious wine, and music making.

Make it happen

Click on the links above to find out more about each of these beguiling destinations. Our hand picked local experts are ready and waiting to show off the best of their countries, and they can design your trip around your specific interests.

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