CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 29 2021
Columns Thanksgiving

Harvest festivals have been celebrated ever since man became civilised. Egypt had such festivals from 3200 BC and then came Greek civilisation around 300 BC.  A harvest festival celebrates a successful yield for farmers. Its name derives from the Old English word ‘Haerfest’ meaning autumn. However, the most celebrated now is Thanksgiving marked in the USA on the fourth Thursday of November, Customs of then are followed even at present.

Thanksgiving calls for a more or less set menu. There are the must-haves and the accompaniments:roast turkey accompanied by a corn dish, roasted sweet potato casserole, Brussel’s sprout, avocado and other vegetable salads and of course pumpkin pudding.

Why so? Since its Thanksgiving for a good harvest and the first European migrants who settled in the eastern seaboard of North America had turkey that had fattened on corn growing plentiful, with pumpkin a major farm product. These first settlers: Pilgrims and Puritans who settled mainly in Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts and Virginia in New England,in the second decade of the 17th century celebrated their successful settlement, nevertheless arduous in the New Land. It was in the second year of settlement that a thanksgiving service was celebrated since there now was food to eat and a time of leisure to be indulged in. Thanksgiving holiday tradition is traced to the 1621 celebration at Plymouth. 

History of the celebration

Thanksgiving proclamations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both State and church leaders until after the American Revolution. As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking 26 November 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.

The question of where the first Thanksgiving was held in the United States has been a subject of debate, primarily between Plymouth and Virginia, complicated by the concept of Thanksgiving as a holiday celebration versus a religious service. This led to John F. Kennedy’s attempt to strike a compromise between the regional claims, by issuing Proclamation 3560 on 5 November 1963 stating, “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.” And going further he pointed out it has both religious and secular significance.

Fixing the date of the holiday

Thanksgiving in the United States was observed on various dates from its start by the Founding Fathers until the time of Lincoln. The festival date varied from State to State. The final Thursday in November become the customary date in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 19th century. Modern Thanksgiving was first officially called for in all States in 1863 by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. Influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to politicians for around 40 years trying to make it an official holiday, Lincoln proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states.

“On 26 December 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday.”

Over here

Our Aluth Avurudhu basically celebrates the birth of a news year, after the nonagathe which stands for the death of the old year and a transitional period.  However, though not named or identified thus, it definitely is a celebration of giving thanks since the Maha harvest is over and it’s time for a mite of respite before the Yala crop has to be undertaken. Hence, our kavun and kokis instead of corn and our kahabuth and traditional curries like cadju, alatheldala, batubedalauyala and seenisambal. 

No turkey of course! Unthinkable! We were very slow on meats due to religious consideration and money being tight. Maybe our polosambul which has a rich gravy red in colour substitutes for flesh and fowl in villages.

Man cannot live by rice alone. He needs his special victuals and OK, the equivalent of a local polkatta of ra! Hence celebrations are a must in every country.  Since up until the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840 ) most communities and thus countries were agricultural, the gathering of the major harvest was reason enough for a festival. Thus, the relaxing and merry making, fun and games with good eating, alcohol,gifts to god and man, thrown in.


CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 29 2021

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