Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want," Wikimedia
The first time I tried to cook Thanksgiving dinner, I was living in Costa Rica and it was so hot the sloths in the backyard had given up on movement completely. I abandoned my attempt to turn my sticky corn masa into anything resembling a roll, fretted over the right amount of time to microwave sweet potatoes, and tried to call my mother. Before trying to translate the quintessentially American holiday for people who had never experienced it, I had never given much thought to Thanksgiving fare. But after living in Guayabo, a small company town surrounding a geothermal electrical plant, trading stories with my six host siblings about American and Costa Rican traditions -- after we celebrated Virgen de Los Angeles, and they made me tamales -- I felt the need to return the favor.
As far as traditional dinners go, my tropical July Thanksgiving was a flop. But it turns out that giving thanks with a holiday and a big meal is a surprisingly common, if not quite universal, impulse. In some cases, the holidays are much older than our own. Before the Pilgrims and buckled shoes (or, for that matter, the stampede deaths outside Wal-Mart), many people around the world had their own version of giving thanks for abundant harvests, or conversely, praying for harvests to come.
Fortunately, humanity's expressions of gratitude don't all include microwaved mashed sweet potatoes (though many are conspicuously lacking turkey, football, or a Macy's parade). The following list of Thanksgiving-like holidays are just a few of the different ways that societies have found to thank deities and ancestors for their food, their health, or their family.
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