Many Americans may be surprised to learn that the idea of a Thanksgiving feast is not a holiday that is unique to the US. While the theme of pilgrims and native American tribes coming together to celebrate is something that Americans latch onto, the idea of a festival in honor of a bountiful harvest is found throughout the world in many different cultures. Here are three festivals and celebrations that are held in honor of the harvest.
Our Favorite European Harvest Festivals
- Harvest Festival – UK
There have been harvest festivals in Britain for hundreds of years, dating back to pagan times. The largest one is held around the autumn equinox. The word harvest actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for autumn. It was considered bad luck to be the person who cut the last stand of corn, so farms would have their workers throw their sickles at the final stalk until it fell. Another way it was done was by blindfolding workers, and spinning them around and giving them a scythe to try and cut the corn with. Like a pinata, except with a giant heavy blade. Sounds fun, but don’t lose your head over it!
- Erntedankfest – Germany and Austria
This celebration is often organized by the church. While the ideas behind the festivals in Germany are similar to the UK version of the Harvest Festival, the events are different on a couple of levels. This festival is actually what was being emulated in 1621 by the pilgrims. It is usually not a family dinner as it is in the US, but actually an event put on by the church that can last all day. Food is often prepared and eaten by attendees, and there may be a parade followed by a dance. It is traditionally held around the end of September, or beginning of October.
- Freyfaxi – Iceland
Held on August 1st, Freyfaxi marks the beginning of the harvest in Norse paganism. Freyfaxi is the name of a horse in an old Norse myth that dates back over 1000 years and has evolved over time. The celebration always consists of many activities like horse races, martial sports, and other events. Blot (animal sacrifice) used to be commonplace during Freyfaxi however this is now generally not the case.
There are celebrations all over America that feature corn mazes, pumpkins, and lil’ Sebastian. Have you ever celebrated a harvest festival that wasn’t Thanksgiving? Leave a comment below and tell us all about it!