Thanksgiving, Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts
Thanksgiving, a U.S. holiday on the fourth Thursday of November, originated in the fall of 1621, when Pilgrims celebrated their successful wheat crop and overflowing store cupboards with a three-day feast. Head to Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts to live the history of that original celebration. The hosts shared their meal of partridge, wild turkey, and fish with the Massasoit and Wampanoag Native American tribes. Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.
Vendimia, Mendoza, Argentina
On the final Sunday of February, the Archbishop of Mendoza sprinkles the season’s first grapes with holy water and offers the new vintage to God, setting off a month of celebrations in Argentina’s Mendoza region. Crowds line the streets to watch a parade of competing beauty queens atop their regional floats, and the festival culminates with a spectacular show at the amphitheater—musicians, entertainers, and dancers take to the stage before a Harvest Queen is chosen amid a backdrop of spectacular fireworks.
Rice Harvest, Bali, Indonesia
Dewi Sri, the rice goddess, is venerated as a matter of course in Bali, where rice is the staple crop. During the harvest, villages are festooned with flags, and simple bamboo temples dedicated to the goddess are erected in the upstream, most sacred corners of the rice fields. Small dolls of rice stalks representing Dewi Sri are placed in granaries as offerings.
Chanthaburi Fruit Fair, Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand, is known for gemstones—and for its profusion of beautiful native fruits, as colorful as jewels. During the summer harvest, the annual Fruit Fair exhibits exotic durians, rambutans, longans, and mangosteens in vibrant arrangements as elaborate as Buddhist mandalas. There are produce competitions and art displays, and the opening-day parade features floats made from thousands of tropical fruits and vegetables.
Sukkot, Jerusalem, Israel
Sukkot celebrates Israel’s bountiful harvests and recalls the time when the Israelites wandered the desert living in temporary shelters. Families build makeshift huts, or sukkah, with roofs open to the sky. Here they eat, and sometimes sleep, for the next seven days. Wands of willow, myrtle, and palm, together with a citron (a kind of lemon), are shaken every day in all directions to honor the gifts from the land.
Blessing of the Sea, Greece
At Epiphany, which recalls the visit of the three Wise Men to the infant Jesus, processions in Greece set off from local churches to the ocean, where a priest blesses a gold cross before hurling it into the waves. Men leap in to be first to retrieve it; the victor achieves grace, and banishes old spirits from the new year.
Olivagando, Magione, Italy
In Italy, Magione’s two-day festival in November celebrates both the feast day of St. Clement and the local olive harvest, bringing together everyone involved in the production of olive oil. A priest blesses the new oil at a special Mass, and the town hosts a lavish medieval dinner at its 12th-century castle.
Lammas Festival, United Kingdom
Lammas marks the beginning of the harvest season, when food is abundant and the light begins to wane. Early Britons baked bread from the new crop to leave on church altars, and corn dolls decorated bounteous feast tables.
Madeira Flower Festival, Madeira, Portugal
Funchal’s April flower festival fills the air with fragrance and marks the arrival of spring in Portugal. Each of the island’s children brings a bloom to create the colorful Muro da Esperança (Wall of Hope), and intricate flower carpets line the streets.
In late December, Swiss men journey to the sea to gather water so Incwala can begin. Branches from the sacred lusekwane tree are woven into a bower for the king, and only when he eats the first fruit can his people partake of the harvest.
Updated in 2017, this text is an excerpt from the National Geographic book Sacred Places of a Lifetime.