A Beijing Thanksgiving

Saturday, 7 March 2009

For what we are about to leave, we are truly thankful

Our family is enormously grateful for our time in Beijing. As we pack almost four years of enrichment into sterile boxes, I find my face tipping skyward to give silent thanks for all we have experienced, the amazing people we’ve met and the gorgeous wares we’ve hoarded to take home. Trust me, celadon pottery, cashmere coats and silk dresses are something to give thanks for.

As we pack, and as we enter the most benevolent and festive time of the Western year, it’s dawned on me how important a festival like Thanksgiving is to the human spirit. While Christmas is all about giving, Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate all we’ve been given, and to share in this abundance.

It’s been almost 400 years since Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony, declared the first Thanksgiving day in America. After a particularly harsh winter, the colony’s harvest was celebrated with a feast of fish, turkey, geese and deer––a tradition that continues today, though it’s the humble gobbler that now takes center stage.

But why is Thanksgiving only officially celebrated in North America?

Throughout history, people have given thanks for a bountiful harvest. In ancient Egypt and Greece, sacrifices were made to the gods in appreciation of an ongoing bounty.

In modern times, many countries celebrate grateful harvest festivals. There is Chusok in Korea, the Pongal festival in India, the Yam festival in Nigeria, just to name a few. The Hebrews observe Succoth and in China, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time to celebrate abundance and togetherness––a tradition which dates 3,000 years to the Zhou dynasty.

In Australia, we have harvest festivals of varying kinds, from apples to wheat, but I want more. I don’t want to take a lamb to the altar in Ritan Park but I do want to have a more official excuse to gather with loved ones and stuff pumpkin pie down my turkey gullet. I want the horn of plenty spilling gourds and nuts onto the table. I want to hold hands around the table. I want a North American Thanksgiving. I want it all.

Sure, true appreciation resides in the heart, and no matter how we give thanks, where we do it or with whom, just doing it is a must. So––from my heart––thank you, Beijing. For everything.

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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