Harvest Moon

Roasted turkey with stuffing, sweet and mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, apple pie and pumpkin pie; these are the traditional foods of the Canadian Thanksgiving. The similarities, including football games make you wonder which celebration came first; American or Canadian. Canada celebrates on the second Monday of October and their holiday predates ours by almost 50 years.  While the exact origins of their reasons for giving thanks are not clear, it is most widely attributed to Martin Frobisher who set sail from England. Grateful for his safe arrival to New Foundland he decided a party was in order and the tradition continues to this day.  As Americans we too have a lot to celebrate and have a national holiday that allows us to reflect upon our bounty and give thanks once a year.  When it comes to classic American holidays, the tradition of gathering around the Thanksgiving table is at the top of the list.  The image is so beloved it was immortalized by Norman Rockwell in one of his most iconic and recognizable pieces in the 4 Freedoms collection called “Freedom From Want”.

The United States will celebrate Thanksgiving this week and while we consider it to be an “American” holiday, Canada and other countries demonstrate that the giving of thanks is not unique to our culture. Indeed, humankind has been giving thanks for centuries.  It was the Pilgrims who first sat down to feast in 1621 and are recognized as being the originators of what we now call Thanksgiving. In 1863 President Lincoln elevated the party status to National Holiday.  Many cultures also hold an annual celebration to give thanks or to celebrate the Harvest Moon and the bounty she delivers. Let’s take a quick trip around the world.

Israel: Sukkot, also spelled as Succoth, is the 7 day Jewish Festival often called the Feast of the Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. The unusual festival name originates from Sukkots which are hut like shelters.. This represents the nomadic dwellings that sheltered the Jewish people as they spent 40 years in the desert. It is also a celebration and time of giving thanks for the bountiful Autumn harvest crop enjoyed following the fast of the High Holy Days.Image result for sukkot

A traditional observance of the holiday will often include a recreation of the temporary structures, known as Sukkah, in public places of worship and in the backyards of the faithful. To honor their ancestors, Jewish families will dine and may even sleep in the Sukkah. The Sukkah are purposely built as temporary structures which also represents that life is temporary. Sukkot was observed this year on the evening of October 17 and will be celebrated next year on the evening of October 5, 2017.

China: The Chinese people celebrate the Mid Autumn festival, an event that I’ve written about in a previous article. Visiting Hong Kong late one September and searching for a place to have dinner I was drawn in by the noise of what sounded like a party. In fact it was a street festival, a celebration in honor of the Full Moon and I was lucky enough to arrive just in time to see the dragon dance performed. I will never forget the colors, the energy and the excitement of that spectacle. Sampling moon cakes and strolling among the colorful stalls was also memorable and I’ll always be grateful that I wandered a bit further and allowed my curiosity to lead me to a wonderful experience.

Barbados: Closer to home, in the Caribbean Sea, the island of Barbados celebrates Crop Over. The Bajan Festival blends the traditions of both England and African harvest celebrations and signals the end of sugar cane harvest season. While, no longer a staple crop of the British influenced island, the locals have kept the party going. Calypso music, elaborate costumes, parades and the ceremonial delivering of the last cane of the season make this a unique gratitude festival. The Crop Over season lasts from May to August culminating in Grand Kadooment Day. Best described as the Grand Finale with a colorful and grand parade and street carnival.

Africa: If you’re a fan of yams there’s a party just for you. I do love yams. It doesn’t matter if they’re baked, fried or mashed, I love the sweet potato so much, I’m happy to eat it plain, straight out of its warm, steaming jacket. Imagine my delight to learn that there’s an entire festival dedicated to celebrating yams. As a root crop it’s a staple of the diet of many cultures, especially in poorer nations. A bounty of yams that can be stored for months means that there will be a steady supply of food and that’s worth celebrating.  Harvest feasts are held during the Fall period on two continents both in Africa and Papua New Guinea. Parades, dancing and singing, tribal drumming and eating yams are all a central part of the festivities.Image result for african yams

Great Britain: The Brits hold their own version of a Harvest Festival and it is considered to be one of the oldest known of all the Harvest Festivals. According to website “Country File” there is a charming tradition of making corn dolls from the last sheaths of the harvest which expressed the farmers’ joy and hope for the future. The dolls were placed on the banquet tables when parishes held their huge feasts and kept until the Spring to ensure the continuation of a good crop next year.  This custom began with Saxon farmers, who believed the last sheath contained the spirit of the corn and represented the goddess of the grain.

Australia: Autumn arrives “early” down under. The geographic location of the continent is such that the Aussie Fall coincides with our Spring. Therefore, harvest time arrives in March and so does the annual festival celebrating the crops of grapes and apples.  Instead of sitting down for one big feast, the locals party for days.  The Aussies will compete in grape crushing competitions which naturally leads to wine competitions. Street carnivals and a grand parade are a part of the festivities and nothing says “thanks for the bounty” better than fireworks. For the Grand Finale no festival is complete without the crowning of an ‘apple n grape’ ambassador.

So many people and so many countries with so many problems still have much for which to be grateful. The celebrations may differ but they are a direct reflection of the people who are celebrating. The one thing we all have in common is gratitude.  As you sit down with family and friends, holding hands around the table and giving thanks for the bounty in your lives I wish you a joyous celebration.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Over the River and Through the Woods

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year.  The statement might seem odd at first if you equate “travel” with flying. However, the majority of people travelling over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house are most likely to do so by car on the day of the holiday. When the last piece of pie has been eaten, AAA estimates that 46.9 million Americans will have travelled to be with family and friends. The majority will travel during the holiday period between Wednesday and Sunday. That number represents an increase over the previous year and is expected to either remain the same or increase again this year.  Driving is often the preferred method for destinations 300 miles or less.Image result for traffic It’s more economical as a family of four to pay for gas rather than airline tickets. However, let’s say your relatives live in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina which is just under 600 miles south. The average airline ticket from NYC during a non-holiday period currently costs approximately $193.00 per person. For a family of 4 your total travel cost is a reasonable $772.00. Let’s look at the same airline, same flights for November 23 returning November 28, 2016. The rate is $462.00 per person at the time I am writing this. Multiply $462.00 by 4 passengers and you are at a whopping total of $1848.00. That number is pre seat assignment cost and paid checked luggage. This local family would need to depart their home 4 hours prior to flight time to drive to the airport. Once there, they need to locate a parking space, check their luggage, be cleared for travel by airport security and still arrive at the departure gate on time. If they lift off as scheduled for the hour and 45 minute flight, you’re looking at a total time investment of almost 6 hours. If the same family packed the SUV, loaded the kiddies and hit the road, their drive time would be between 9 to 10 hours. The extra 4 hours in each direction could yield a savings of at least $1076. That hefty total might be enough to tempt many to drive. Some distances are just too great to attempt with a young family. Despite the hefty costs, longer distances are often best accomplished by flying. This mode requires much more preparation if you wish to get the dates, times and the rates you want. When planning to reserve a holiday period flight, it is best to devise a plan that focuses on organization, a willingness to get in the game and commitment to a strategy. This is the travel industry’s Super Bowl and the best prepared team is usually successful.Image result for crowded airport

It can be a challenge to find reasonably priced fares. Especially on flights from the local airports that will allow you to work a full day and yet make it in time for pre-dinner festivities. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Avoid connecting flights during any holiday even if it saves $100.00 or more. The money you save won’t be worth it if you find yourself stranded in Chicago due to a missed connection. I suppose you could use the $100.00 you saved to buy snacks and beverages while you wait for your next flight.
  2. Pack the car and fill your gas tank the night before departure. This will eliminate the extra time spent double checking the house for anything left behind.  You also avoid an additional 15 minutes of anxiety if you have to wait in longer than normal lines for the fuel pumps.
  3. If your drive to the airport takes 2 hours, you should allow 3 hours to make the same drive in case you get stuck in holiday traffic.
  4. Increase the regular 2 hour check in time at the airport for domestic flights to 3 hours. For international flights increase your arrival at the airport from 3 to 4 hours prior. It’s amateur time, baby, and the airports will be filled with novices unaccustomed to packing correctly to ensure an expedient check in. It’s likely that security lines will move slower than normal.
  5. Pack your own snacks in case of delays and to save money. Fortunately, airport food is getting better but the higher prices reflect not only the increase in quality but also the convenience.

Perhaps the stress of the airport or the cost of the flights has you thinking about driving to be with your family in Raleigh-Durham. Departing from Dutchess County you would drive approximately 600 miles in each direction. If your car averaged 30 miles per gallon highway driving, you might expect to use 40 gallons of fuel.  The cost of gas in the local area is an average 2.39 per gallon and will decrease as you drive South, eventually dropping to an average of $2.20. If I use only the New York pricing we can expect that your total travel cost should be under $100.00. That number doesn’t include the snacks purchased during rest area stops.

Opting to drive allows you to set your own schedule. You determine your own departure and arrival times. It is also a premium opportunity to encourage family bonding. Trivia games, singing with the radio or playing an old fashioned round of “I Spy” (I spy something red with 8 sides = a stop sign) are fun ways to pass the time.  I also spy a good chance to sneak in a geography lesson. Parents could prepare trivia information for each state they’ll pass through to teach the kids or grandkids about state capitols, and historic landmarks. The names of local sport teams might spark enthusiasm as you wind your way down or across the states. This is memory making at its best and NO headsets allowed. Talk about how they are related to the people they will be meeting. Sneak in a good manners lesson about how to greet people. Explain what a “Kid’s table” is. Pack pillows and blankets for mid trip naps.Image result for sleeping in car Bring sandwiches, snacks and beverages to keep costs and stops along the way to a minimum. Bathroom and refueling breaks will be necessary and you don’t want anyone to be tempted by expensive sugary treats and snacks available for sale.

This might seem like a lot of effort and it will be but it will be worth it. Of all the suggestions I offer above, the best advice is this: remember to be grateful for the bounty that is your family.