When one thinks about harvest festivals in North America, it is easy for most people to not look beyond Thanksgiving, which is celebrated in the United States and Canada. However, festivals celebrating the gathering of the harvest have been around for centuries, before Thanksgiving tradition emerged in North America. Here are ten examples of amazing harvest festivals that are celebrated all over the world.
1. Samhain – No, we’re not talking about the band Glenn Danzig formed after leaving the Misfits! Samhain means “summers end” and is a festival of Celtic or Gaelic origins, It is celebrated worldwide by Wiccans and Pagans to mark the beginning of winter and to remember the dead. Samhain recognizes the cycles of nature, death and renewal, and marks the beginning of the new harvest year by the burning of bonfires. It was later taken over by Catholicism as All-Souls day or Halloween. Like Halloween, carved pumpkins are a feature of Samhain festivities.
2. Choosuk — A Korean Festival held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, during the harvest season. Families attend ancestral memorials at the graves of their relatives, and give thanks. On Choosuk eve, women gather and sing traditional songs, men engage in wrestling matches and there is a grand feast, where moon cakes are a favorite. In 2010, the North Korean Red Cross offered South Korea the chance for family reunions, allowing families who had been separated since 1945 to reunite for six days around Choosuk.
3. Yam Festival – a West African tradition, the Festival of Yams is held at the beginning of August to mark the end of the rainy season. The festival is a public holiday in Ghana and Nigeria. It is sometimes called the ‘Homowo’ or ‘Hoot at Hunger’. Yams are offered to the gods and eaten amidst celebrations. There are parades, drumming, dancing and singing, and of course, eating of yams in a traditional dish called Fufu.
4. Niiname-sai – Meaning “Celebrations of the First Taste”, Niiname-sai is a Shinto rice festival held yearly in Japan, since World War II Niiname-sai is known as Labor Thanksgiving Day. During the ceremonies the Emperor must offer up some of the harvest to the spirits and make the first taste of the years rice harvest while praying for a healthy crop in the new year.
5. Mehregan – Held at the beginning of Autumn (October 8 on the Zorastrian calendar), Mehregan is an ancient Persian festival celebrating nature and the creation of the world dedicated to Mithra, the goddess light, friendship, faith, love and kindness. Traditional Persian Aash dishes are eaten, including the symbolic pomegranate, barley and wheat.
6. Moon Festival – This Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in China, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Mid-Autumn is a time for family and loved ones to gather and enjoy the full moon that is a symbol of abundance, harmony and luck. Families enjoy picnics or special dinners. Adults will usually indulge in many different varieties of moon cakes with a good cup of piping hot Chinese tea. Along with the delicious moon cakes, children enjoy brightly lit lanterns, puppet shows, and lantern processions.
7. Itel’men Tribal Harvest Festival – Held in the icy tundra of Northern Russia in the third week of September. The tribal indigenous Russians of the Koriak, Itel’men and Sunda return to their ancestral roots. Part of the ritual of the Tribal Harvest Festival is a 43 mile hike to the top of Mt Elvel where a wooden carving is left for the ancestors. Other Russian festivals occur in August to celebrate the harvest of honey, apples and nuts, called “Spas”.
8. Pongal – A harvest festival celebrated in Southern India.It spans four days and celebrates family, rain gods, sun gods and cattle. On the third day a feast is held featuring rice, jaggery (palm sugar) and dal (lentils) as a celebration of the years prosperity. The sweet “Pongal” rice dish is made with rice, milk and jaggery during this festival.
9. La Festa dell’Uva – the highlight of the grape harvest season is the Chianti grape harvest festival or La Festa dell’Uva. This festival occurs in late September or early October as it has for centuries in the small country town of Impruneta. There are over 800 local wines to taste, plus music, dancing and medieval costumes are worn.
10. Baisakhi — Important on the Punjabi and Sikh calendars in India, Baisakhi marks the new year and the start of the harvest. The festival is celebrated around April 13 or 14 every year by people wearing their most colorful and vibrant clothes and participating in prayer meets, processions, dancing, singing and eating delicious Punjabi food.