Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Several other places around the world observe similar celebrations. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and on the second Monday of October in Canada. In Germany, Erntedankfest, is first Sunday in October. In Australia, Mabon falls around March 20th. Or in Switzerland, The Federal Day of Thanks, Penance, and Prayer, is third Sunday in September. Thanksgiving has its historical roots in religious and cultural traditions and has long been celebrated in a secular manner as well.
Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times. The Thanksgiving holiday's history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.
In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. Pilgrims and Puritans who began emigrating from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England (Northeastern United States).
As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God". In modern times the President of the United States, in addition to issuing a proclamation, will "pardon a turkey", which spares the bird's life and ensures that it will spend the duration of its life roaming freely on farmland.
In the United States, certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. Firstly, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as "Turkey Day"). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, various fall vegetables (mainly various kinds of squashes) and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. All of these are actually native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived.
The poor are often provided with food at Thanksgiving time. Most communities have annual food drives that collect non-perishable packaged and canned foods, and corporations sponsor charitable distributions of staple foods and Thanksgiving dinners. Additionally, pegged to be five days after Thanksgiving is Giving Tuesday, a celebration of charitable giving.
Thanksgiving for the annual harvest is one of the oldest holidays known to man though celebrated on different dates. The Israelites were instructed to keep the feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) a celebration, a holy convocation that was to last eight days. The Old Testament is filled with commands to gather harvest and rejoice. The ancient Greek harvest festival was called Thesmophora and celebrated Demeter, the founder and Goddess of the harvests. The symbols of Demeter were poppies and ears of corn, a basket of fruit and a little pig. The Roman Goddess of the harvest Ceres, had a festival, which occurred on October 4th and was called the Cerelia. Celtic Pagans and Angelo Saxon’s had huge celebrations – Lughnasadh and Mabon. These were to honor the first and second harvest blessed upon them by their Goddess and God.
Lammas, also called Lughnasadh, falls at the beginning of the harvest season. The Earth is fruitful and abundant, crops are bountiful, and livestock are fattening up for winter. Lammas in Norse is compared to Freyfaxi, or Freyr Fest. As a fertility deity Freyr would be intimately tied to the land and the food grown upon it. It was a time for celebration with horse races and a feast for God Freyr. Thor was also honored as is his wife Sif, whose golden hair reminds us the wheat fields. Traditionally, three stalks of the first grains are bound together into a sheaf and kept as an amulet of fortune. Sometimes it was also left in the field for Odin’s horse Sleipnir.
Mabon is the Autumn Equinox. The Autumn Equinox divides the day and night equally, and we all take a moment to pay our respects to the impending dark. We also give thanks to the waning sunlight, as we store our harvest of this year’s crops. The Druids call this celebration, Mea’n Fo’mhair, and honor the The Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to trees. Offerings of ciders, wines, herbs and fertilizer are appropriate at this time. Wiccans celebrate the aging Goddess as she passes from Mother to Crone, and her consort the God as he prepares for death and re-birth.
On or around September 21, for many Pagan and Wiccan traditions it is a time of giving thanks for the things we have, whether it is abundant crops or other blessings. For the Nordic, it is time for a Winter Finding ceremony to bid farewell to the passing summer and to prepare for the rigors of winter. The Norse, like the other pre-industrial societies of Europe, depended heavily on a successful harvest in the fall to make it through the winter and so they took this time to thank the Gods for all that had been given during the harvest and to ask their protection during the cold of winter.
In some Germanic countries, people worried about the fate of their grain harvest. If there was a great deal of wind during the harvesting season, it could be because Odin wanted a share of the crop. To keep him happy, a few spare sacks of flour were emptied into the wind.
A magical Mabon beverage: hot apple cider. Apples rules the heart, cider alone is a self-love potion. By spicing it with cinnamon, ruled by the Sun, we are in essence, ingesting the sunlight.
For many locations, Mabon coincides with the final harvest of grain, fruits, and vegetables. Mabon, also called Harvest Home, is the time of thanksgiving. The beauty and bounty of summer gives way to the desolation of winter and the darkness overtakes the light.
No matter when you give thanks, take time in Autumn to do it. Honor the Divines. Take the opportunity to recharge your spiritual batteries. Align yourself with the Earth's shifting energies. Say 'Thank You'.
A great spirit is here in these green and golden woods. Her voice moves the branches. Fluttering leaves an old oak shakes herself. Sky arching above my head. Disk of the Sun a halo above my head. Here's to our foremothers, the renegades of Salem. May their spirit remain strong in the land. May our youth always be independent, think for themselves and be resourceful. This Thanksgiving day we prostrate ourselves on this beautiful Earth and let her absorb our shortcomings. Let our souls, like a taproot, remain connected to her and drink deeply from her wellsprings of rejuvenation. Strengthen us. Open us. Allow us to see that we are all one. May our insight translate into loving kindness and compassionate action in our families and society. ~ Daruma