Throughout the course of mankind's history, the Earth's bountiful harvest has been celebrated with ceremonies of giving thanks. Prior to the establishment of formal religions, many ancient tillers of the ground believed that their crops contained spirits...spirits which caused the crops to grow and to die. The belief was also strong that these spirits would be released when the crops were harvested. Therefore, they had to be destroyed or they would wreak revenge upon the harvesting farmers. Some of these ancient rituals celebrated the defeat of such spirits. Harvest festivals and celebrations of thanksgiving were all held by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Chinese and Egyptians.

The ancient Greeks worshipped many gods and goddesses. The Greek Godess of corn (and of all grains) was named Demeter, who was honored at the festival of Thesmosphoria held each Autumn. On the first day of Thesmosphoria, married women (who possibily connected the business of childbearing to the raising of crops) would build leafy shelters furnished with couches fashioned from plants. On the second day, the Roman ladies fasted but, on the third day, a feast was held and offerings made to Demeter...presents of seed corn, cakes, fruit and pigs. It was hoped that thus, the gratitude of the Goddess for such gifts would grant a good harvest.

The Romans also celebrated a harvest festival called Cerelia. This honored their Goddess of Corn...Ceres, from which the word "cereal" is derived. The festival of Cerelia was held each year on October 4th and gifts of pigs, together with the first fruits of the harvest, were offered to Ceres. This Roman celebration included music, parades, games, sports and a thanksgiving feast.

The ancient Chinese celebrated their harvest festival, known as Chung Ch'ui, with the full moon that fell on the 15th day of the 8th month. This day was considered the birthday of the Moon and special "moon cakes," round and yellow like the moon, would be baked. Each cake was stamped with the picture of a rabbit since it was a rabbit, and not a man, which the Chinese perceived to be on the face of the Moon. Families would gather together to partake of a thanksgiving meal, feasting on roasted pig, harvested fruits and the "moon cakes." It was believed that during the three-day festival of Chung Ch'ui, flowers would fall from the Moon and those who saw them would be rewarded with good fortune.

According to legend, Chung Ch'ui was also an occasion to give thanks for another special occasion. China had been conquered by enemy armies who took control of native homes and provisions. The Chinese found themselves homeless and without food. Many of them staved. In order to free themselves they decided to attack the invaders.

The women baked special "moon cakes" which were distributed to every family. Each cake contained a secret message indicating the time to attack. The invaders were so surprised at the unexpected assault that they were easily defeated. Every year "moon cakes" are said to be eaten in memory of this magnificent victory.

Jewish families also celebrate a harvest festival which they call Sukkoth. Taking place each autumn, the Hebrew Sukkoth has been celebrated for over 3000 years and is known by two names: Hag ha Succot, meaning "Feast of the Tabernacles" and Hag ha Asif, meaning "Feast of Ingathering." Sukkoth begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, five days afterYom Kippur...the most solemn day of the Jewish year.

Sukkoth takes its name from succots, the huts in which Moses and the Israelites lived as they wandered the desert for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land. Succots were made of branches and were easy to assemble, take apart and carry.

When celebrating Sukkoth, which lasts for eight days, the Jewish people build small huts of branches which recall the tabernacles of their ancestors. These huts are constructed only to serve as temporary shelters. The branches are not driven into the ground and the roof is covered with foliage which is spaced to allow light to filter through. Inside the huts are hung fruits and vegetables, including apples, grapes, corn and pomegranates. On the first two nights of Sukkoth, families eat their meals in the huts beneath the evening sky.

The ancient Egyptians celebrated their harvest festival in honor of Min, God of Vegetation and Fertility. The festival of Min was held during the springtime...the Egyptian's harvest season. It featured a parade in which even the Pharaoh took part. After the parade a great feast was held complete with music, dancing, and sports. When Egyptian farmers harvested their corn, they wept and pretended to be grief-stricken in order to deceive the spirit which they believed dwelt within the corn. If this was not done, they feared that the spirit would become angry when they cut down the corn in the place where it lived.

Today, Annual Days of Thanksgiving are celebrated in the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Liberia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Grenada and the Virgin Islands.

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