November 16, 2015

How People Say Thanks with Food Around the World

As early as the 1700s, the end of each sugar cane season in Barbados heralded a Crop Over celebration to thank God for another year of abundant harvests. Crop Over dates back to when Barbados was the world’s largest producer of sugar — but as the industry waned, so did the festival, eventually disappearing altogether. In 1974, Crop Over was resurrected as a Carnival-like festival with stunning costumes, a calypso competition, craft markets, and fireworks. Food tents serve favorites like fish cakes and barbecued chicken, and Barbados sometimes seems like one big party from June through August.

Día de los Natitas (or Day of the Skulls) is a Bolivian ritual and festival of thanks to the dead. Traditionally, skulls of the deceased are kept at home to protect and watch over the family during the year. On the Day of the Skulls, these skulls are crowned with flowers, dressed, and offered gifts of food, alcohol, cigarettes, and coca leaves before being taken to the cemetery in La Paz to be blessed in thanks for the year's protection.

With similarities to the U.S. version of the holiday, “Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated in early October, still being closely tied to the European harvest season,” said Allison Day, author of the blog Yummy Beet and Taste Canada award winner. “The holiday weekend is for relaxing, connecting, cooking, and eating.” And while many people do make the traditional turkey dinner, “Canada’s multicultural population makes for a unique, no rules holiday — whatever your family loves to eat, goes,” Day explains. “No matter what we’re enjoying (curry, lasagna, roasted vegetables, chili, etc.) there’s always pumpkin pie with plenty of whipped cream. The meal is a total hodgepodge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way — and it feels quintessentially Canadian because of this.”  

It isn't specifically a giving of thanks, but the tradition of the good old English Sunday Roast combines serious eating with family gatherings. “You know you are British when no matter what the temperature it is outside you end up with roast on Sunday,” says England native Dawn Capon. “A typical roast requires the biggest joint of meat slowly roasted for hours, plenty of vegetables, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and lots of homemade gravy.” British families gather for Sunday Roast “to spend time together and reflect on the week gone by.”

There are few people friendlier and welcoming than Fijians. When visiting a Fijian village, it is tradition to bring a sevusevu, a gift or offering, of kava (a milky drink with sedative properties) as a sign of thanks for being welcomed. It is customary to receive an invitation to dine in someone's home where, prior to eating an overabundance of food, there will be a prayer in thanks to the hosts. At the end of the meal upon receiving thanks from their guest, a Fijian host will reply, "Vinaka na vaka yanga taka" or "Thank you for eating my food."

Clotilde Dusoulier, a French food writer and the author of the blog Chocolate & Zucchini, shares traditions: “In France, giving food is a common way to express your gratitude to someone who has been of service to you. Homemade items are seldom used; the gift is more frequently purchased from a reputable artisan. This can be a box of chocolates, for instance, or a basket of high-quality canned meat products such as duck confit or foie gras, either of which you can get surprise-delivered with a note to the person’s home or work. It can also be very simple so long as it’s thoughtful: I have a 90-year-old neighbor to whom I’ve occasionally been of assistance in the middle of the night, and now every fall her daughter drops off a bag of apples and walnuts from her country house.”
"I've celebrated the holidays abroad in a few countries and the French have the most elegant ways of saying thank you their host," Eva Rodriguez-Greguski, founder of budding New York nonprofit HomeGrown Change, said of French traditions. "When Americans bring dessert, it's a colossal something. The French take time to go to their favorite patisserie and order the most elegant collection of pastries, macarons, etc. and bring them in an elegant box with a gorgeously tied bow. It's not about quantity as it is about taking the time to carefully select something and bring an item of real quality." That sentiment doesn't apply to wine as, unlike Americans, the French rarely bring wine. "Wine is to be selected by the person preparing the dinner! That's why they stick to something like chocolates."

Kinro Kansha no Hi, or Labor Thanksgiving Day, is a Japanese national holiday honoring labor and production and offering thanks. It is not a big feast; workers celebrate one another by exchanging gifts of candies and chocolates. An everyday Japanese expression of gratitude is to put one’s hands together and say “Itadakimasu” before a meal. Similar to saying grace, “I humbly receive,” as it translates, gives thanks for the meal and all aspects that contributed to its preparation from hunting and cultivating to cooking and serving.

Day of the Dead is commonly misunderstood in the U.S. as being a counterpart to Halloween. In actuality, Día de los Muertos is a two-day holiday during which Mexicans honor those who have passed and "give thanks for the lives of their loved ones," explains Laurie Anderson, a Canada native who now lives in Cozumel. Cemeteries and crypts are decorated with favorite foods and drinks, sugar skulls, marigolds, pictures, and special loved items. Families will often have a meal there during this time. The holiday is celebrated with singing, dancing, and feasting. Anderson says mucbil pollo, a traditional Yucatecan dish: a large tamale (about the size of a pizza) stuffed with chicken, pork, tomatoes, eggs, and various ingredients, is an essential part of the celebration.

Beer, wine and, of course, vodka are the cornerstone of any Russian celebration, but rarely a sip goes by without a toast to accompany it. Russians have an elaborate tradition of toasting with vodka: It's considered uncivilized to start drinking without a toast, and standard festivities include a series of toasts ranging from anecdotes to simply "Za vas!" ("To you!"). The first toast of a celebration is typically a thank you from the hosts to guests followed by a reciprocal toast by the guests.

South Korea
Chuseok is a major harvest festival and three-day holiday celebrated in South Korea to give thanks to dead ancestors for an abundant harvest. Koreans travel to their hometowns for this holiday and perform rituals, such as caring for the tombs of their ancestors and making offerings of food and drinks to the deceased. One ritual Chuseok wouldn't be complete without: the early morning preparation of Songpyeon, a traditional Korean half-moon shaped rice cake filled with various sweet or semi-sweet fillings, such as honey and mung beans, and steamed on a bed of pine needles.  

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