Thanksgiving in Iran and North America

Thanksgiving Day is an annual holiday in both the US and Canada. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the U.S. and on the second Monday of October in Canada. Thanksgiving in North America had originated from a mix of European/ Persian and Native traditions. Typically in Persia, and then in Europe, festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest. As we said before, many Western traditions have Persian roots, and among them are April 1st (13-bedar), Halloween (CharShanbe Soori), Thanksgiving (Megregan), Christmas (Sadeh/ Yalda), etc. As we said before, the Persian religion (Zoroastrianism) is the root of Christianity and many other religions. And many Europeans were Aryans (Iranians) who immigrated to Europe from Iran. The Zoroastrian doctrine of heaven ,hell, and limbo influenced other faiths. Christianity further assimilated the Zoroastrian belief of the souls afterlife and the appearance of a savior, resurrection, and eternal life at the end of the world. Zoroasters notions also affected the development of Christian beliefs about demons and angels, the afterlife, and heaven and hell, as well as the concept of resurrection of the dead at the end of time . As we said before, ‘Iran’ literally means ‘land of Aryans’, and many Europeans immigrated form Iran. So, it’s so obvious that many Persian traditions became popular in the west. Thanksgiving history in the US, according to scholars, was an autumn harvest festival. And it’s exactly like the Persian traditions of Mehregan, a day of thanksgiving which everyone show the mehr (love) they have for each other. Mehregan was a very important day in the Persian year. It was celebrated in the seventh month, Mehr, at the time of harvest and beginning of winter. On those days, farmers carried out their harvest and prayed to God for it. Thanksgiving history in the US is not very clear, but some say that the first gathering among the pilgrims and the Winnebago Indians, took place in 1621 and was regarded as a harvest festival event. This idea of holding a harvest feast was not something new to the pilgrims. Many cultures throughout history had held feasts and banquets honoring their individual deities or simply being thankful for the bounty. At that time, Native Americans had also celebrated the end of a harvest season.

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Mehregan is one of the two most important ancient Iranian festivals known, dating back at least as far as the earliest Aryans (Iranians). The word “Mehr” (in Mehregan) in the Persian language means kindness. Mehr represents knowledge, love, light and friendship. Mehregan and its festival falls on the 196th day of the Iranian year (10th Mehr, 2nd Oct.). Avestan texts divide the Iranian year into two equal parts or seasons. The first season was summer and the second was winter. The coming of the two seasons would be celebrated through Nowruz and Mehregan. It was celebrated on the 16th of the seventh month, Mehr, at the time of harvest and beginning of winter. This feast would be celebrated for six days. On these days, farmers carried out their harvest and prayed to God for it. The seventh month in the Persian calendar is named Mehr and is dedicated to the Goddess of Light (Mithra or Mehr). Her followers believed that she defeated evil and darkness, a scene that is often depicted with a triumphant lion residing over a bull. The Perisan also believe Fereydouns victory over Azydahak (Zahhak in Ferdosis Shahnameh) happened on Mehregan day (it’s an old Persian Myth). Hence, Mehregan is a day of victory when angels helped Fereydoun and Kaveh gain victory over Zahhak. They imprisoned him in the Damavand Mountain where he died from his wounds six days later. In Birunis 11th-century book of instructions on the art of astrology, the astronomer observed that some people gave preference to Mehregan over Nowruz just as they prefer autumn over spring. Mehregan was celebrated in an extravagant style at Persepolis. Not only was it the time for harvest, but it was also the time when the taxes were collected. No matter what the origins, Persians all over celebrate this festival in the fall signifying the season of harvest and thanksgiving. Friendships are renewed and families are visited. The festival is also a reminder of the cornerstone of the religion of Zoroaster – good words, good deeds and good thoughts. Now, the Iranian Zoroastrians are celebrating this auspicious occasion on October 2. At lunch time, everyone in the family stands in front of the mirror to pray. Handfuls of wild marjoram, lotus and sugar plum seeds are thrown over each others heads while they embrace one another. Of course, the Mullahs and the Islamist have banned other Iranians from celebrating Mehregan, but after the Mullahs downfall, Iranians again will celebrate Mehregan and all other Persian festivals in all around Persia.

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Thanksgiving in the US is a religious day, but like many other religious days in the US, Thanksgiving has become a happy and joyful secular day in the recent decades. The history of Thanksgiving in the US is not very clear, but some believe the first Thanksgiving in the US was the feast shared with the Wampanoag Indians. They say: “During the first winter in 1621, 46 of the 102 pilgrims died. But the following year resulted in a plentiful harvest. The pilgrims decided to celebrate with a feast that would include 90 natives who helped the pilgrims survive during that first winter. The next recorded day of Thanksgiving occurred in 1631 when a ship full of supplies that was feared to be lost at sea actually pulled into Boston Harbor. Governor Bradford again ordered a day of Thanksgiving and prayer”. And some historians add: “After the revolutionary wars, George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in the year 1789 and again in 1795. Washington wrote: ‘Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits … we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions”. The state of New York officially made Thanksgiving Day an annual custom in 1817. Abraham Lincoln issued a ‘Thanksgiving Proclamation’ on third October 1863 and officially set aside the last Thursday of November as the national day for Thanksgiving. Franklin Roosevelt restored Thursday before last of November as Thanksgiving Day in the year 1939. And Congress passed a law on December 26, 1941, ensuring that all Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year”. Thanksgiving is the turkey’s day in the US. In a survey conducted by the National Turkey Federation, nearly 88 percent of Americans said they eat turkey at Thanksgiving. Some say: “An estimated 248 million turkeys will be raised for slaughter in the US, up 2 percent from 2010’s total, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Last year’s birds were worth about U.S. $4.37 billion. About 46 million turkeys ended up on U.S. dinner tables last Thanksgiving -or about 736 million pounds (334 million kilograms) of turkey meat, according to estimates from the National Turkey Federation. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimated that 42.2 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2010”. Apparently Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird of the United States. Native Americans had domesticated the turkey centuries before European contact. And early European explorers of the New World had returned to Europe with turkeys in tow after encountering them at Native American settlements.

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Thanksgiving is observed on the every fourth Thursday of November, so its date is not fixed (2011- Thursday, November 24th, 2012- Thursday, November 22nd, 2013- Thursday, November 28th, etc). The Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of the month, and the reason for the earlier date in October is their earlier harvest occurring farther to the north. There are many myths about Thanksgiving in the US. Some historians say: “The Plimoth settlers did not refer to themselves as Pilgrims. Pilgrims are people who travel for religious reasons, such as Muslims who make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Most of those who arrived here from England were religious dissidents who had broken away from the Church of England. They called themselves Saints; others called them Separatists. Some of the settlers were Puritans, dissidents but not separatists who wanted to purify the Church. It wasnt until around the time of the American Revolution that the name Pilgrims came to be associated with the Plimoth settlers, and the Pilgrims became the symbol of American morality and Christian faith, fortitude, and family. But the colonists were not just innocent refugees from religious persecution. By 1620, hundreds of Native people had already been to England and back, most as captives; so the Plimoth colonists knew full well that the land they were settling on was inhabited. Nevertheless, their belief system taught them that any land that was unimproved was wild and theirs for the taking; that the people who lived there were roving heathens with no right to the land. Both the Separatists and Puritans were rigid fundamentalists who came here fully intending to take the land away from its Native inhabitants and establish a new nation, their Holy Kingdom. The Plimoth colonists were never concerned with freedom of religion for anyone but themselves. By 1675, there were some 50,000 colonists in the place they had named New England. They had killed many native Americans. That year, Metacom, a son of Massasoit, one of the first whose generosity had saved the lives of the starving settlers, led a rebellion against them. By the end of the conflict known as King Philips War, most of the Indian peoples of the Northeast region had been either completely wiped out, sold into slavery, or had fled for safety into Canada. Shortly after Metacoms death, Plimoth Colony declared a day of thanksgiving for the English victory over the Indians”

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