Since the first Thanksgiving dinner held by British settlers and Wampanoag Indians nearly 400 years ago, the holiday has been celebrated as an essentially Judeo-Christian holiday in North America.
As American society has become more religiously diverse in recent years, however, families of other faiths have also participated in the national holiday, giving thanks to their spiritual creator for life’s blessings.
Some houses of worship of various faiths have taken the next step by celebrating Thanksgiving together.
The subject made national headlines recently when hundreds of people from the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha’i faiths gathered at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas.
The service was moved there after a Baptist church that originally agreed to serve as host decided it wouldn’t be “Christian oriented.”
“I was very upset about it but we cannot have hate against hate,” said Nahid Khataw of the Austin Area Intereligous Ministries (AAIM), which sponsored the event.
In the end, however, the situation came to a happy ending and the service was a success.
“It just brings tears to your eyes that there is love and there is peace and we all have to be giving and understanding with each other, and we can accomplish a lot,” Muslim attendee Tahiri Malik said.
With gatherings such as the one in Austin taking place more often, it’s worth knowing how many people of faiths outside the Christian tradition give thanks:
Islam — According to Dr. Ibrahim Garmad, a scholar on Persian poetry, the word for thanksgiving in Arabic is “shukr.” There are two major religious thanksgiving days in Islam: one following the month of fasting (RamaDân), and one following the pilgrimage rites in Mecca. Both involve congregational prayers, sermons, thanksgiving means, and charitable contributions to the poor. In the holy scripture of Islam, the Qur’ân (14:7) G-d says, “If you are thankful, surely I will increase more (favors) for you.”
Buddhism — Many Buddhists, especially those from East Asia, observe a two-day festival in the summer known as the Obon festival, a time of thanksgiving and a celebration of the marriage between the past and the present, when Buddhists remember the dead and celebrate the things their ancestors’ lives made possible. The event usually involves large gatherings that include traditional dances, recitation of folk stories and prayers of thanks.
“Obon is meant to be a time of giving thanks for and celebrating the benefits we’ve received from our predecessors,” noted Shigeki Sugiyama, a temple minister in Alameda, Calif.
Sikhism and Hinduism — Vaisakhi, also known as Baisakhi, is a mid-April harvest festival of thanks that dates back to 1699 and is currently observed by many Sikhs and Hindus from India. To mark the celebrations, devotees, irrespective of their religion, gather at Sikh places of worship with flowers and offerings to give thanks and give out free food to the needy. The holiday is also marked by large processions in both India and among Sikhs and Hindus in New York.