Harvest Festival Traditions
Erntedank and Thanksgiving are both harvest-themed festivals steeped in many traditions and history. Modern revelers are increasingly interested in where their foods come from in the world. Traditionally the food for Erntedank and Thanksgiving is home-grown and sustainable. In modern times this is often hard to achieve, but there is interest within Europe in getting back to this sort of “green” celebration. Even in the United States people want to “go green” for their celebrations. More and more over time people want to use sustainableand natural food sources. These festivals are welcome occasions to reconnect with our roots, celebrate traditions and sources of food we consume daily!
Starting the Celebration
As the season of Oktoberfest draws to a close in Germany, the U.S. begins preparations for two major fall holidays. Halloween and Thanksgiving are markedly fun and exciting times in America, and are separated by less than a month! While also celebrated in Germany, Halloween is much more prevalent in the U.S. Though Thanksgiving began with a specific historical event, harvest celebrations in Europe date back to pre-Christian times and pagan traditions.
Erntedank is mostly celebrated as a religious holiday today, although its roots come from Pagan traditions. Long before the first Europeans arrived in North America, farmers across Europe held celebrations at harvest time. These rural-based celebrations were held to give thanks for their good fortune. The farmers celebrated in order to give thanks to the Germanic gods for their abundant harvest from fields and gardens.
The First Thanksgiving
The “First Thanksgiving” took place in 1621 between the Puritan pilgrims at Plymouth and the Wampanoag tribe. This celebration was to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest and to thank the neighboring Wampanoag tribe. Led by Massasoit, the chieftain of the tribe, the Wampanoag gave large amounts of food to the pilgrims. Additionally, Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who lived with the Wampanoag instructed the pilgrims in agriculture. The Native American intervention was a large and important key to the pilgrims’ survival. The celebration itself was quite similar to European harvest festivals of the time. They celebrated with feasting and games, as was the custom in England, as well as prayer, which was customary for Puritans. The celebration served to boost the morale of the fifty surviving colonists and also to impress and show gratitude for their allies.
Over time this commemorative day of thanks evolved into a yearly Thanksgiving celebration in the U.S. Held on the last Thursday in November, the holiday today bears many religious undertones and traditions. While the celebration was originally started in New England, it was seen to have a broader national value. It was established as a national holiday during World War II, and it has since come to celebrate abundance, family and national unity. While the manner in which it is celebrated has changed, the essential values of gratitude and togetherness have been maintained and are to this day very prominent!