Every culture – and most religions – have feasts and festivals to commemorate important events. What better way to celebrate than to gather round with friends and family and eat together? Many feasts have roots in ancient religion, and many around this time of year have evolved from celebrations that commemorate the end of the harvest. Here’s a run-down of some of the more prominent feasts, festivals and celebrations that take place across the world at this time of year – except Christmas. (Everyone knows what Christmas is about, right?)
Thanksgiving (USA November 24th 2011, Canada October 8th 2012)
Thanksgiving is a hugely important festival for Americans and Canadians, celebrated to give thanks to God for guiding them safely to the New World and also to give thanks for a successful growing season. Most Americans believe that the first Thanksgiving took place at Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts in 1621, but there is evidence of other Thanksgiving-style celebrations being held by the Spanish during the 1500s. It’s a time for family, for sharing, for giving thanks, and for eating as much Turkey as you can.
Eid al-Fitr (August 19th 2012)
Eid is the feast that marks the end of Islam’s month-long Ramadan period. Observed during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, no food or drink may be consumed at all between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan. The period emphasises the importance of humility, patience, spirituality and submission to God. Perhaps most importantly, it is also believed to be the month in which the verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the prophet Mohammed.
Eid marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the start of the new month in the Islamic calendar. It’s a time of great celebration, quality time with the family and feasting everywhere. Many people go on holiday after Ramadan, so expect hotels to get fuller as tourists from surrounding countries travel to places like Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.
Sukkot (October 13th 2012)
Sukkot or The Feast of Tabernacles, commemorates the years that the Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, and celebrates the way in which God took special care of them under impossible conditions. Sukkot lasts for seven days, and work is not permitted on the first two days.
The Hebrew word Sukkot refers to the small, walled structures covered with leafy branches or palm fronds, which signify the fragile dwellings the Israelites lived in during their 40 years in the desert. Sukkot are built for this feast, and this is where meals are taken. Some people sleep in these structures too. Like many feasts around this time, Sukkot is a harvest festival.
Lantern Festival Festival – China (September 30th 2012)
Another autumn harvest festival observed with zest in China, Vietnam and Taiwan, is the Lantern Festival (AKA Mooncake Festival or Moon Festival). Becoming popular during the Tang Dynasty, the festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October. Customs include the eating of Mooncakes (a pastry filled with red bean or lotus seed paste), matchmaking dances, lighting lanterns, burning incense and dragon dancing.
Day of the Dead / Dia de los Muertos (November 2nd 2012)
In Central America and South America, and especially Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is one of the most popular festivals of the year. A festival intended to honour the dead, Dia de los Muertos takes place at a similar time to Halloween, but has quite a different vibe to it. Spirits don’t haunt the living world so much as visit it, returning to a daylight world of incense, bread, chocolates and marigolds. Some of the most popular delicacies to enjoy once the dead have been honoured include warm mugs of champurrado (a spicy hot chocolate drink thickened with masa), tamales, calabacitas and sugar-dusted loaves of pan de muerto, a kind of bread decorated with dough ‘bones.’ Eating isn’t the primary focus of the day by any means, but it’s definitely the part I’ll be looking forward to!
Take a look at our website for more on events and festivals worldwide.