By Travel Writer Tracey Ellis
Moments of gratitude are the essence of happiness – when thankful realisations are recognised it can bring a profound sense of peace to our lives. Tracey Ellis explores gatherings around the globe to see how people give thanks and unite in marvellous mosaics of celebrations and appreciation.
"Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance." Eckhart Tolle
Every day there is a reason to be thankful; for that heart shape in the foam of your latté, for waking up to sunshine instead of rain, for those simple but special moments that make you smile. However small, moments of gratitude can be reflective and solitary, or, for special occasions that deserve more attention, they can be celebrated in groups of family and friends with festive music, dance, food, and creative cultural customs.
Expressions of gratitude are embedded in every culture in unique and fundamental ways, often displayed and celebrated in annual festivals all throughout the year. Coming together to celebrate in thanks provides cultural cohesion, a sense of harmony, and a great reason to eat, drink, and be merry. For many, gratitude is inherent within these gatherings as it welcomes occasions to reconnect with our roots, celebrate traditions, and be grateful for the comfort of rituals that bring us together.
These festivals are often a day (or days) of fun, feasting, and celebrating good fortunes. They are necessary reminders of the importance of family and friends, the relevance of keeping traditions alive, and the crucial role agriculture plays in providing our nourishment. Sharing of traditional food, maintaining customs, wearing costumes, performing in dance, all bring us together in magical unity and deepen our connections physically, mentally and spiritually.
Exploring different culture’s customs and festivals opens our minds as to why other countries are grateful, as well as their individual histories and perspectives. We’re all familiar with North American Thanksgivings, but here are a few examples of how different cultures use the creative components of music, dance, food, and art to express gratitude through all the seasons, each and every year:
Music & Poetry
Music can, in itself, be a great expression of gratitude. Consider all the hymns and songs of love and praise that acknowledge the beauty of life; the medium of lyrics put to music present a soulful platform on which to reach out to loved ones and give thanks. Whether it’s choirs, professional singers, or groups singing along to a well-known song, music is an essential element in all festivals of gratitude.
Pulsating Calypso music is the focus of Barbados’ ‘Crop Over’ Festival, a weeks-long summer party in August celebrating the end of the sugar harvest each year.
An upbeat genre of music, calypso was actually born from a longing for home by African slaves, who, working on sugar plantations in the Caribbean, were stripped of all contact with their homeland. They communicated with fellow slaves through song and forged a sense of community in doing so.
Originally sung in French Creole, calypso soon became Caribbean ‘folk’ music and an integral part of the festival as well as their culture.
These songs, usually led by one individual called a griot, helped to unite the slaves and eventually became the voice of the people, as well as social conscience.
At the festival, it continues to be a major element in giving thanks for the plentiful sugar cane harvest, culminating in a ‘Pic-O-De-Crop’ music flagship event, with a king of the music crop crowned each year.
Poetic Reflections – Words, Stories and Legends
The Chinese Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, when the full moon is said to be the largest and brightest of the year. It is an annual celebration to mark the close of rice harvesting season, and the second biggest festival in China.
Historically, the Moon Festival inspired many writers to moon gaze and pen poems of their thoughts during this reflective time. It was an opportunity to express what they were grateful for and give well wishes to loved ones who they were often separated from during the festival.
Revered Chinese writer, scholar and artist Su Shi, a poet from the Song Dynasty, wrote this famous poem for his brother to illustrate the importance of time with family whom he was so often away from;
What is a celebration without food? For centuries, people have come together to celebrate bountiful harvests and successful crops, making it a special time to give thanks to the earth for their daily nourishment. With the roots of agriculture reaching back 12,000 years, feasting on traditional dishes during festivals remind us of our heritage. Long ago, as hunters and gatherers, cultivating and collecting crops was enormously hard work, so successful harvests deserve to be praised and revered.
Yet in today’s world, food is something we take for granted. According to the United Nations, one-third of food produced for consumption – 1.3 billion tonnes – gets lost or wasted every year. Meanwhile, around one in nine people in the world are undernourished. It may seem impossible to achieve a global food balance, but recognition and appreciation of providers of food can go a long way in the right direction.
How can we show our gratitude for food today when it is so plentiful, yet often squandered? Here are some ideas to build the simple yet powerful act of gratitude into every meal you eat:
- Eat a meal with intentional gratitude – as you’re eating, imagine where every ingredient has come from and how it has arrived on your plate. Think of the spices and herbs that enhance your dish; they all have an origin linking the meal to the land where it came from. When you think about all the elements required to get food from farm to table, as well as time and energy, it is not difficult to be grateful.
- Eat more mindfully - use the five senses to fully experience the aromas, appearance, textures and flavors of each meal.
- Sharing traditional, cultural foods helps spread intercultural awareness; try sharing the experience of eating special dishes with different walks of life. Tell the stories behind the meals and why they’ve been eaten at annual celebrations year after year.
- Support humane methods of farming and agriculture such as the HFA (Humane Farming Association – www.hfa.org) or Compassion in World Farming (www.ciwf.org.uk)
- Appreciate the natural elements that allow our food to grow; the soil, sun, water, and weather. Try planting something and experience the natural process of nurture and growth yourself.
- Eat What You Love, and Love What You Eat – this book written by Michelle May M.D. outlines a mindful eating program to help you have a happy relationship with food. Escape rigid diet rules, food substitutes and eat without fear, guilt, and bingeing.
Long before the first Europeans arrived in North America, farmers across Europe held celebrations at harvest time to give thanks for their good fortune. Germany’s version of Thanksgiving is not as popular as it’s better-known sibling Oktoberfest, but is more important in the sense of showing appreciation for abundant food.
Traditionally, the food for Erntedank is home-grown and sustainable, but in modern times this is hard to achieve. Wheat and honeycomb have played an important role for this rural festival, and specially decorated loaves of bread are always on the table. Why not try making your own home-baked German bread to keep with tradition and fill the kitchen with delicious aromas, like Oma used to do!