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updated: 11/22/2011 2:53 PM

Thanksgiving celebrated in many ways around the world

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  • Rockland School students play games during last year's Thanksgiving feast at the Libertyville school.

      Rockland School students play games during last year's Thanksgiving feast at the Libertyville school.
    George, 2010


You wanted to know

"How is Thanksgiving celebrated around the world?" asked second-graders in Rachel Boehm's class at Hawthorn Elementary North in Vernon Hills.

The first Thanksgiving in the American colonies, held in late December, 1621, was a three-day feast.

Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation honored the Wampanoag Indians, who had helped the Pilgrims with their difficult transition from England to the New World, with a supersized meal featuring deer, lobster, oysters, water fowl, squash and pumpkin.

Most likely, they borrowed the idea for the feast from their former home, where the British had been hosting fall harvest festivals for hundreds of years.

The word harvest comes from the Middle-English word haverfest, meaning autumn. Fall harvest and Thanksgiving traditions have been part of human civilization since the beginning of time. Ancient customs have included a celebration for abundant crops in nearly every culture, including the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Egyptians and Romans.

England's harvest festival is a lunar holiday held at the autumn full moon, or Harvest Moon, usually late September or October. People bring fresh and canned food to the local church and decorate church windows with the food items. A special church service is held. The food is boxed and given to senior residents and to those in need.

In China and Vietnam, the harvest festival is called the Moon Festival. Held in September, it goes back about 3,000 years. The Moon Goddess presides over the festival, in which brightly lit paper lanterns shine through the night and traditional moon cakes are shared. In some communities there are dances held for single men and women in hopes they'll find true love.

Canada has been celebrating Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October since 1957. The Canadian Parliament set aside the day as "A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed."

In the U.S., Thanksgiving officially began in 1789. George Washington had been president of the United States for only six months when he declared a Proclamation of Thanksgiving to acknowledge God's providence and the establishment of a peaceful government, and asked that God bless all nations "with good government, peace and concord."

Thankfulness for the blessings of "fruitful fields and healthful skies" was set forth in Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1863. Although many states already were observing Thanksgiving, Lincoln's proclamation set aside a specific day for the entire nation to celebrate.

Thanksgiving today combines an appreciation for the bountiful harvest with school plays about grateful Pilgrims and helpful Indians, college football games and parades featuring gigantic balloon animals.

A roast turkey is usually the featured guest at the dinner table along with many side dishes and pumpkin desserts that leave diners feeling happy, thankful and maybe even a little overstuffed.

Here's to your Thanksgiving celebration -- may it place you in the company of loving family and plenty of leftovers.

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