By Rohini Mohan
Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pie. Warm toasty fires, mom’s big dinner table, delicious aromas, family fun, great conversation and good times. That’s what this yearly American holiday is all about. Everyone knows that this tradition started with the Pilgrim Fathers, who gave thanks for the harvest they reaped after a harsh winter. Their original feast was not elaborate, but the thanks were loaded with gratitude, because a bountiful fall harvest meant food on the table for the next few months.
In 1621 the Governor proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving which the colonists celebrated along with the Wampanong Indians. The tradition continued, though not everyone celebrated it on the same day. George Washington declared the day a holiday in 1789 and Abe Lincoln gave the last thursday in November a national flavor by declaring it a nationwide holiday in his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863.
A tradition that transcends religion, Thanksgiving is not unique to the US. Literally every society has set aside a day to give thanks for a successful harvest. In Canada thanksgiving is celebrated the first Monday in October. In 1578, English Explorer Martin Frobisher gave thanks for a successful journey and commemorated it with an official thanksgiving function, though traditionally even before that there was a tradition of giving thanks to the three sisters – beans, corn and squash during the fall harvest. Canada borrowed this celebration from the European harvest festival. In fact, the word Harvest itself came from the Anglo Saxon word for Autumn. Some villages and churches in the UK still have a Harvest Supper. Ireland celebrates the Tigh Molaige Harvest Festival every August. The Jews celebrate their harvest as Sukkot, a thanks to the Gods for providing for the Jews in their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. Erntedankfest in Germany, Chuseok in Korea, Mid Autumn Festival in China, Gawai Dayak in Malaysia.
We celebrate Thanksgiving in India too, in our own way. We may not do it in autumn or roast a turkey but Onam (Kerala) Pongal (Tamilnadu) Baisakhi (Punjab), Makar Sakranti (Andhra Pradesh) and Nabanna (Bengal) are all Desi versions of Thanksgiving.
The world is flatter than you think and has been for longer than you think.
Today we are a little removed from the agrarian society that we were when the tradition started. But on Annual Turkey day or it’s equivalent we can still give thanks for what we have reaped, symbolically speaking, in the year gone by. A day of reflection, of lessons learned, of new resolutions. A day to give thanks for an urban harvest.