Each fall Americans look forward to Thanksgiving – a day of bountiful eating, family gatherings, and even football. Often this day winds down with a nap on the couch and leftovers being put away for a chance to re-live the great feast. For many, the leftover turkey is best put to use in a sandwich and the sweet potato casserole makes for a great late-night snack. This has become the tradition. But it all had a different beginning.
The History of Harvest
We celebrate Thanksgiving to commemorate the feast that pilgrims shared with some Wampanoag Indians after the first harvest in 1621. The festivities lasted 3 days and the fresh food eaten then was more likely venison, not turkey, and sweet potatoes were unknown to the settlers at that time.¹ The food has evolved and the holiday has since become a day of thanks for all that we have, including our family, community, and local food.
In some countries, harvest celebrations are a bit different. Honoring the harvest of local food and sharing with the community happens in some interesting ways as ancient traditions are enacted. Let us take you on a tour around the world and get a glimpse of some global holiday harvest traditions.
Incwala – Swaziland
In Swaziland, Incwala lasts for many days leading up to the cutting of the sacred shrub, known as Iusekwane. .² The Incwala is also referred to as the first -fruits ceremony and includes communal harvesting of fields, weddings, and rituals of song and dance only performed for this festival. The celebration is meant for “renewing and strengthening the kingship and the nation.” ³
Dozynki – Poland
This Slavic harvest festival coincides with the end of the harvest season and was originally associated with an ancient pagan cult of agriculture. ¹* Still celebrated in Poland today, it marks the tradition of rewarding farm laborers for their work in the fields of the larger landowners and comes at the end of the harvest season.
The last of the harvest, usually wheat and rye, is formed into a dome-shaped wreath and presented to the head of the manor. Participants wear traditional costumes as a processional heads to the landowner’s estate. There is an offering of bread to the host, who then shares a vodka toast with the eldest male peasant. A feast follows where peasant-style food is served. ²*
Crop Over – Barbados
The island nation celebrates the end of sugar cane season with what can be considered one of the longest harvest events around. As much as two months time can be spent on feasting, eating, and Calypso music competitions. ³* The tradition dates back to the 1780’s and today it’s a party atmosphere complete with a parade and the ceremonial delivering of the last sugar canes to the king and queen of the festival. ¹ª
Honor the harvest
Across the globe people take time to observe the significance of the harvest and to celebrate the bounty.
While we decorate with gourds and bales of hay and eat ourselves to the point of being overstuffed, remember, it is a celebration of harvesting that provides us some of the best local food around. It is also a commemoration of the hard work the pilgrims endured and the friendship they shared with the indigenous people.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving, and if you don’t have any leftover turkey you can always visit Atlanta Bread for our delicious Turkey Cranberry Sandwich!