The most famous American holiday, Thanksgiving, vs. Romania’s Harvest Festival
Thanksgiving is an annual holiday which takes place on the last Thursday of
November in the United States of America.
It was first celebrated by the first settlers who landed in the New World, after
their first harvest, in October 1621. At that time, the celebration lasted three days and was attended by 53 Europeans and 90 members of the Wampanoag Tribe, who contributed fish, shellfish, vegetables and beer. The purpose of the holiday was to thank God for a rich harvest, given the harsh conditions, including those of weather, they encountered in their first year in America.
Thanksgiving has been celebrated intermittently over time, but in 1942 US Congress passed a law making it an official holiday, marked on the fourth Thursday of November.
The most important moment of the holiday is that of Thanksgiving dinner –
when families eat, according to tradition, stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. People do not work on Thanksgiving, in order to allow families to spend together. Parades, floats and other community events are organized throughout the day. The Christmas shopping season is just beginning now.
Every year on Thanksgiving, the President of the United States gives a public
statement. Additionally, he graces a turkey in a symbolic gesture, which is permitted to quietly continue its life in a historic farm. The annual tradition of pardoning a turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving began, it seems, during Abraham Lincoln's presidency in the 1860s.
Currently, the American holiday has lost its religious aspect, in order to allow
immigrants to participate in this old American tradition. Once associated with the arrival of the first settlers and their contact with Native Americans on American soil, it began to be understood more and more as a celebration of intercultural peace, family, home, and opportunities for new immigrants.
Harvest Day is a beloved autumn holiday. It is a celebration of the land and the
peasant who, during this part of the year, proudly shows off the fruit of his/her work over the last year.
The celebration of the fruits of the earth has been held since antiquity, especially
in the cult of the Greek goddess Demeter and that of the Roman goddess Ceres, and has been present, in various forms, over time, including the Romanian folk tradition. Under communism, it became an important date, marked in the last days of October, which highlighted the successes of collectivist agriculture, through stands located in the capital and in all major cities. It was also the day when agricultural products with certain flaws were put up for sale.
At present, Harvest Day is celebrated mainly in September and October, but it
does not have a fixed date. It consists mainly of temporary markets, set up in city centers, where stands of traditional products, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, wine and other local products made by the producers in a certain area are found. The part of the exhibition for sale is completed by performances of folk ensembles, which highlight the customs, traditions, customs of the local community of different regions. Sometimes creative workshops are organized for children and adults and various competitions are very popular with the participants. Generally, the celebration can last two to three days.
Harvest Day can also take place in the form of events dedicated to a single product. For example, grape must festivals are very popular, with the occasion of the end of grape harvest and wine production, being organized especially in the wine regions of Romania.
In fact, in South-Eastern Europe, autumn is often associated with grape picking and wine production, a very important occupation with immemorial origins. And on this occasion there are various competitions and tastings of wine and traditional dishes, also representing the generosity of the land and efforts rewarded with an abundance of products.
In conclusion, the celebration of harvests occurs in all civilizations that practice
agriculture, as a means of bringing thanks to the deities responsible for fertility and abundance, and invoking their goodwill for the coming years. Both Thanksgiving and Harvest Day celebrate the richness of the harvest, albeit in different ways, the first being a family holiday, the other a community holiday. On the other hand, both reach beyond a strictly religious or strictly communitary sphere. While Thanksgiving has an important role in American identity, continuing to have an official state component, Harvest Day was propagandistically instrumented during the communist dictatorship, being used as a celebration of socialist agriculture, this making it no less popular neither then nor today.
EP.5: Anniversaries of Abundance | Geographies of Tradition
Text by Flavia Paula Stoica, museographer at the Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania. Translated into English by Andreea Scridon. Presented by Andreea Scridon. Videography by Dragoș Popa.
Music source: the Ethnological Archive of the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant: arhiva.muzeultaranuluiroman.ro.
A production of the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York and the Ethnographical Museum of Transylvania in Cluj-Napoca (2021).