Thanksgiving is a holiday in both USA and Canada, with the US celebration falling on the fourth Thursday in November and the Canadian one on the second Monday in November.
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by the Pilgrims who were giving thanks for the harvest. The previous year the harvest had failed and many of them had died. The Native Americans had taught them how to grow corn, squash and beans, and how to catch fish. A typical Thanksgiving meal includes butternut squash, corn and beans alongside Turkey and potatoes.
The first national Thanksgiving was celebrated on 26th November 1789. It was proclaimed by George Washington as a time for being thankful for what you have and for counting life’s blessings.
Today Thanksgiving is celebrated with parades and a family meal, and many Americans consider it a more important holiday than Christmas.
According to the stories, the Jewish people left Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to wait for the bread they had been baking to rise. To mark this, during Passover they now eat only unleavened bread. The night before Passover they cleanse the house of all leavened bread, including crumbs.
A special meal called a Seder is eaten, and they lean on cushions as a symbol that they are no longer slaves. The meal also represents the escape from slavery. The first item on the plate is the lamb bone. This is not eaten, but symbolises the lambs that were sacrificed for the original Passover. The roasted egg is also a symbol of sacrifice, as well as of springtime (when Passover takes place) and new beginnings. The green vegetables are for the humble origins of Jews and these vegetables are dipped in saltwater for the tears they have shed. Bitter herbs (usually horseradish) are for the bitterness of slavery, and a dish called Charoset (a mixture of apple, walnut and wine) symbolises the mortar used for building in Egypt during the time of slavery.
The youngest child asks four questions, beginning “Why is this night different from all other nights?” to prompt the retelling of the story of the story of the escape from Egyptian slavery.
During the evening, four toasts are made – one for each of the four expressions God used to describe the escape from slavery, and a glass of wine is also poured for the prophet Elijah. The doors are left unlocked and sometimes open so that Elijah can enter in case this is the day he chooses to return.
Related post: Why do Jews celebrate Passover
This is a guest post from Caroline Skudder who works as an English teacher at the Université Stendhal-Grenoble.
Christmas is a special and magical time of the year. Both adults and children look forward to it for different reasons: children for the tons of presents they get and adults for the fine food and chocolates they are going to eat. Both Christmas eve and Christmas day are celebrated. It is often the opportunity for couples and families to spend one of these days at one family’s and the other at the other family’s so everybody is happy. Father Christmas often comes two or three times: in the evening of Christmas eve (at one set of grandparents’) , in the morning of Christmas day (at home) and at lunch time of Christmas day (at the other set of grandparents’).
The Christmas tree is often put up at the start of December and all the family set to work to decorate it. It often ends up being a little unbalanced but the children are proud of their work. Recently, there has been the fashion for outside electrical lights to decorate the house and neighbours often compete for the best decorated house.
Some families go to midnight mass and watch a nativity play played by children.
Tables are set up. Often several old tables are put next to each other to host everybody and we struggle to find a chair for everyone. We decorate them with Christmas table cloths and bits and pieces.
Christmas is about eating refined and delicious food you do not get to eat in the year. Several members of the family prepare a dish for the meal. The whole evening from 7 to past midnight is spent eating. There are several starters (there can be up to 3 or 4, for instance smoked salmon, prawns, snails or frog legs, foie gras), two main courses (for instance Turkey and Chestnuts or duck or poultry), the traditional cheeses and the Christmas logs. We often have enough food for the rest of the week!
Joyeux Noël (Happy Christmas)
If you want to learn French and you are based in Birmingham, you can contact me via my website for private French lessons.
Related posts: How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany? How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece? How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark?