February 3rd, 2016

Wise woman Ellen Brown has been suggesting for many years that we need a political-economic system that serves each citizen and every citizen. This is her newest essay. Today’s article is reposted from Counter Punch.

The Populist Revolution: Bernie and Beyond

Ellen Brown

The world is undergoing a populist revival. From the revolt against austerity led by the Syriza Party in Greece and the Podemos Party in Spain, to Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise victory as Labour leader in the UK, to Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican polls, to Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton – contenders with their fingers on the popular pulse are surging ahead of their establishment rivals.

Today’s populist revolt mimics an earlier one that reached its peak in the US in the 1890s. Then it was all about challenging Wall Street, reclaiming the government’s power to create money, curing rampant deflation with US Notes (Greenbacks) or silver coins (then considered the money of the people), nationalizing the banks, and establishing a central bank that actually responded to the will of the people.

Over a century later, Occupy Wall Street revived the populist challenge, armed this time with the Internet and mass media to spread the word. The Occupy movement shined a spotlight on the corrupt culture of greed unleashed by deregulating Wall Street, widening the yawning gap between the 1% and the 99% and destroying jobs, households and the economy.

Donald Trump’s populist campaign has not focused much on Wall Street; but Bernie Sanders’ has, in spades. Sanders has picked as will so will I figure up the baton where Occupy left off, and the disenfranchised Millennials who composed that movement have flocked behind him.

The Failure of Regulation

Sanders’ focus on Wall Street has forced his opponent Hillary Clinton to respond to the challenge. Clinton maintains that Sanders’ proposals sound good but “will never make it in real life.” Her solution is largely to preserve the status quo while imposing more bank regulation.

That approach, however, was already tried with the Dodd-Frank Act, which has not solved the problem although it is currently the longest and most complicated bill ever passed by the US legislature. Dodd-Frank purported to eliminate bailouts, but it did this by replacing them with “bail-ins” – confiscating the funds of bank creditors, including depositors, to keep too-big-to-fail banks afloat. The costs were merely shifted from the people-as-taxpayers to the people-as-creditors.

Worse, the massive tangle of new regulations has hamstrung the smaller community banks that make the majority of loans to small and medium sized businesses, which in turn create most of the jobs. More regulation would simply force more community banks to sell out to their larger competitors, making the too-bigs even bigger.

In any case, regulatory tweaking has proved to be an inadequate response. Banks backed by an army of lobbyists simply get the laws changed, so that what was formerly criminal behavior becomes legal. (See, e.g., CitiGroup’s redrafting of the “push out” rule in December 2015 that completely vitiated the legislative intent.)

What Sanders is proposing, by contrast, is a real financial revolution, a fundamental change in the system itself. His proposals includeeliminating Too Big to Fail by breaking up the biggest banks; protecting consumer deposits by reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act (separating investment from depository banking); reviving postal banks as safe depository alternatives; and reforming the Federal Reserve, enlisting it in the service of the people.

Time to Revive the Original Populist Agenda?

Sanders’ proposals are a good start. But critics counter that breaking up the biggest banks would be costly, disruptive and destabilizing; and it would not eliminate Wall Street corruption and mismanagement.

Banks today have usurped the power to create the national money supply. As the Bank of England recently acknowledged, banks create money whenever they make loans. Banks determine who gets the money and on what terms. Reducing the biggest banks to less than $50 billion in assets (the Dodd-Frank limit for “too big to fail”) would not make them more trustworthy stewards of that power and privilege.

How can banking be made to serve the needs of the people and the economy, while preserving the more functional aspects of today’s highly sophisticated global banking system? Perhaps it is time to reconsider the proposals of the early populists. The direct approach to “occupying” the banks is to simply step into their shoes and make them public utilities. Insolvent megabanks can be nationalized – as they were before 2008. (More on that shortly.)

Making banks public utilities can happen on a local level as well. States and cities can establish publicly-owned depository banks on the highly profitable and efficient model of the Bank of North Dakota. Public banks can partner with community banks to direct credit where it is needed locally; and they can reduce the costs of government by recycling bank profits for public use, eliminating outsized Wall Street fees and obviating the need for derivatives to mitigate risk.

At the federal level, not only can postal banks serve as safe depositories and affordable credit alternatives, but the central bank can provide is it just a source of interest-free credit for the nation – as was done, for example, with Canada’s central bank from 1939 to 1974. The U.S. Treasury could also reclaim the power to issue, not just pocket change, but a major portion of the money supply – as was done by the American colonists in the 18th century and by President Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century.

Nationalization: Not As Radical As It Sounds

Radical as it sounds today, nationalizing failed megabanks was actually standard operating procedure before 2008. Nationalization was one of three options open to the FDIC when a bank failed. The other two were (1) closure and liquidation, and (2) merger with a healthy bank. Most failures were resolved using the merger option, but for very large banks, nationalization was sometimes considered the best choice for taxpayers. The leading U.S. example was Continental Illinois, the seventh-largest bank in the country when it failed in 1984. The FDIC wiped out existing shareholders, infused capital, took over bad assets, replaced senior management, and owned the bank for about a decade, running it as a commercial enterprise.

What was a truly radical departure from accepted practice was the unprecedented wave of government bailouts after the 2008 banking crisis. The taxpayers bore the losses, while culpable bank management not only escaped civil and criminal penalties but made off with record bonuses.

In a July 2012 article in The New York Times titled “Wall Street Is Too Big to Regulate,” Gar Alperovitz noted that the five biggest banks—JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs—then had combined assets amounting to more than half the nation’s economy. He wrote:

With high-paid lobbyists contesting every proposed regulation, it is increasingly clear that big banks can never be effectively controlled as private businesses. If an enterprise (or five of them) is so large and so concentrated that competition and regulation are impossible, the most market-friendly step is to nationalize its functions. . . .

Nationalization isn’t as difficult as it sounds. We tend to forget that we did, in fact, nationalize General Motors in 2009; the government still owns a controlling share of its stock. We also essentially nationalized the American International Group, one of the largest insurance companies in the world, and the government still owns roughly 60 percent of its stock.

A more market-friendly term than nationalization is “receivership” – taking over insolvent banks and cleaning them up. But as Dr. Michael Hudson observed in a 2009 article, real nationalization does not mean simply imposing losses on the government and then selling the asset back to the private sector. He wrote:

Real nationalization occurs when governments act in the public interest to take over private property. . . . Nationalizing the banks along these lines would mean that the government would supply the nation’s credit needs. The Treasury would become the source of new money, replacing commercial bank credit. Presumably this credit would be lent out for economically and socially productive purposes, not merely to inflate asset prices while loading down households and business with debt as has occurred under today’s commercial bank lending policies.

A Network of Locally-Controlled Public Banks

“Nationalizing” the banks implies top-down federal control, but this need not be the result. We could have a system of publicly-owned banks that were locally controlled, operating independently to serve the needs of their own communities.

As noted earlier, banks create the money they lend simply by writing it into accounts. Money comes into existence as a debit in the borrower’s account, and it is extinguished when the debt is repaid. This happens at a grassroots level through local banks, creating and destroying money organically according to the demands of the community. Making these banks public institutions would differ from the current system only in that the banks would have a mandate to serve the public interest, and the profits would be returned to the local government for public use.

Although most of the money supply would continue to be created and destroyed locally as loans, there would still be a need for the government-issued currency envisioned by the early populists, to fill gaps in demand as needed to keep supply and demand in balance. This could be achieved with a national dividend issued by the federal Treasury to all citizens, or by “quantitative easing for the people” as envisioned by Jeremy Corbyn, or by quantitative easing targeted at infrastructure.

For decades, private sector banking has been left to its own devices. The private-only banking model has been thoroughly tested, and it has proven to be a disastrous failure. We need a banking system that truly serves the needs of the people, and that objective can best be achieved with banks that are owned and operated by and for the people.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 300+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.

December 26th, 2015

From the CommUnity of Minds Archives.


What’s wrong with wishing others a Merry Christmas?

Timothy Wilken MD

Recently it has become politically incorrect to wish your fellow humans a Merry Christmas. We are supposed to use the generic term Happy Holidays to avoid religious discrimination and hurting the feelings of others.

The term Christmas comes from a contraction of two words Christ and Mass. It is believed that the first Christmas was celebrated in the 4th century AD. The term Christ refers to the coming of a messiah to save the Jewish people as foretold in the Old Testament of the Bible. The term Mass referred to a special religious ceremony of the newly created Catholic Church based on the belief that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was this foretold Christ. The Mass ceremony centers around the sharing of bread and wine of Communion (the Eucharist) which represents the body and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation), and Christ is sacrificed (offered up) again at each mass.

Like all new religions, the early Catholic Church began accommodating the pagan practices of that time. The merrymaking and exchanging of gifts came from the festival of Saturnalia (a festival to the god, Saturn) and the date, December 25, was an adaptation of the birthday of Mithra (the sun god). The actual birth date for Jesus of Nazareth is unknown. Christmas trees, mistletoe, candles, carols and gift giving rituals – all of these Christmas traditions are of pagan or non Christian origin.

So who are we offending by wishing someone a Merry Christmas?

There are those Christian religions that are purists. They believe in Christ and Jesus of Nazareth, but are offended by the pagan contamination surrounding Christmas. This includes the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And while the Jews believe in the Old Testament chapters of the Bible, and even in the coming of Christ, they do not accept that Jesus of Nazareth was that foretold messiah so Christmas is out for them. And then there are the many religions who do not accept the Bible so the Old Testament’s foretold Christ has no meaning to them. This includes the Hindu’s, Buddhists, and Muslims. And, don’t forget the Agnostics (the existence of God is unknowable) and Atheists (God does not exist) who naturally don’t believe in Christ, and so therefore might be offended when wished a Merry Christmas. And, I am sure the reader can think of many others who may be offended that I have left out.

I find all of this rather sad.

Probably for two reasons, first I remember growing up when Christmas was a positive event–A time to celebrate family, friendship and community–A time for Peace on Earth and Good Will to All. From that perspective, I can’t see how wishing anyone a Merry Christmas can be insulting.

But secondly, and more importantly, I very much want to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. I don’t care whether he was the Christ foretold in the Old Testament or not. I don’t care if there is a mixing of pagan and christian tradition in celebrating his birth. I don’t care whether December 25th is his real birth-date or not. I just want to celebrate Jesus of Nazareth, the human being.

Jesus of Nazareth was a good and decent man. He was a synergist. He taught that we should love one another, and that we should help each other. So (Merry Christmas) and …

Happy Jesus of Nazareth Week!

Read The Golden Rule.

December 18th, 2015

This article was published yesterday, a friend of mine thought it was worth a read. … I agree!

Reposted from AlJazerra America.

America: Home of the wimps?

David Cay Johnston

Listening to Republican presidential candidates on Tuesday night, you would think that America has become a nation of wimps, cowering in fear for no good reason over a murderous band of Middle Easterners with little power to harm us.

Polls show strong support for Donald Trump, who wants to spy on mosques and ban all Muslims from entering the country. Ben Carson fears a Muslim president would follow Sharia, unaware of the most basic principles of our Constitution. Sen. Ted Cruz spreads sophisticated versions of the same un-American rhetoric and calls President Barack Obama “an apologist” for terrorists during appearances on conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck’s show.

All three, along with the other Republican candidates, say if elected they will protect us from “radical Islamic terrorists.” But the reality is that their vile comments threaten America far more than those they attack.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a pipsqueak. It has no capacity to occupy a single inch of American soil and never will. It is no military threat to America or Europe. All it can do is recruit foolish people to harry us with violent crimes that have no military significance.

Yet under the influence of such political hyperventilating, Americans express their fears to journalists and pollsters about this mouse that cannot even roar. Their anxiety is as ludicrous as the plot of the 1959 Peter Sellers farce about the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick invading Manhattan so that, by surrendering, it could get American aid for its wine industry.

ISIL’S chief recruiter

Trump’s remarks inciting hatred of Muslims (and Mexicans) have made him ISIL’s chief recruitment officer. ISIL has no better friend than Trump, though his ignorance and narcissism blind him to this awful reality.

ISIL markets the idea that Islam is under attack, persuading people long on zeal and short on good sense to embrace its apocalyptic fantasies that the end is near. ISIL is an enemy not just of America and the West, but also of any Muslims who do not hew to its vision of religious piety, itself a murderous apostasy that offends the Prophet Muhammad and his teachings.

Carson, Cruz and others help ISIL by encouraging the idea that America and its allies are at war with Islam, something that George W. Bush and Obama frequently emphasized is not the case.

Now the leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, has joined in. At a town hall last week in Waterloo, Iowa, after the massacre in San Bernardino, California, she pandered, saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK to be afraid.”

No, it is not OK to be afraid. And shame on her for saying that, lending credence to the modern Know-Nothings in the Republican Party.

Being afraid is what ISIL, the remnants of Al-Qaeda and their murderous friends want. What they cannot withstand are smart responses that degrade their capacity and demonstrate American distaste for government violence beyond the minimum necessary in response.

What we should fear are pandering politicians. We should be anxious when politicians promise safety at the price of trashing our Constitution, our values and our history.

Anyone who has read the writings of Osama bin Laden and his ideological spawn knows that their objective is to get America to destroy itself by getting into endless land wars in the Middle East.

One in 110 million

So let’s get some perspective and separate the deadly and evil stunts of ISIL supporters from the actual risks we face: Our chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are one in four million if you go all the way back to 1995, which would include the Oklahoma City bombing by a right-wing American fanatic.

If you count just the years after 9/11 the odds drop to one in 110 million, Professors John Mueller and Mark Stewart show in their brand new book “Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism.”

Since 9/11 attacks by the far right have killed 48 Americans, compared to 45 in attacks by people claiming to be jihadists, reports compiled by the New America Foundation show.

And what of Christian, Jewish and Hindu fanatics? How about the many murders at Planned Parenthood clinics by people who claim to be Christians seeking to impose their ideology on everyone else? Or what of the Jewish Defense League, whose leaders Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel plotted in November 2001 to kill Representative Daryl Issa, a California Republican of Arab descent. Years earlier the Rand Corporation think tank warned that “for more than a decade, the Jewish Defense League (JDL) has been one of the most active terrorist groups in the United States.”

More broadly, homicides claimed 16,121 American lives in 2013, with 70 percent of the victims shot to death, the federal Centers for Disease Control reported. So far this year 12,662 Americans have been shot to death.

In this century tornadoes have killed 49 Americans per year in this century if you ignore the 553 deaths in 2011, which raises the average to 84.

Lightning killed 26 Americans this year, which is more than the 14 victims of the San Bernardino mass murder and the five killed in Chattanooga last July.

Yes, tornadoes and lightning have proven far more deadly than impotent ISIL, but you wouldn’t know that from the exaggerated fear-mongering from our presidential candidates.


Contrast that with what our leaders said in the past in far more worrying circumstances.

On the night of 9/11, in a national television address, President George W. Bush said, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”

More than a half century ago, when a nuclear-armed Soviet Union was an actual military threat, a new president spoke with determination about preserving liberty. In his 1961 inaugural address, John F Kennedy said “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

That was not a call to arms, but to smarts. And key to those smarts was showing that freedom comes not from the barrel of a gun, but from a determination of each of us to protect the liberties of everyone else, especially those whose views we dislike.

In 1933, when the worst economic collapse in our history ravaged the nation, Franklin D. Roosevelt took office saying that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advances.”

Where are the leaders today who will appeal to our best instincts? Who among the presidential wannabes operates from the position of strength that our national anthem declares in all four stanzas, written when a foreign Army had occupied the nation’s capital and was advancing on Baltimore?

We need leaders who will encourage us to stand firm, act smartly and promise that we will remain “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

David Cay Johnston, an investigative reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize while at The New York Times, teaches business, tax and property law of the ancient world at the Syracuse University College of Law. He is the best-selling author of “Perfectly Legal,” “Free Lunch” and “The Fine Print” and the editor of the new anthology “Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality.”

November 28th, 2015

As readers of this site know, capitalism is an obsolete economic strategy that must fail as humanity reaches the limits of clean water, clean air, and affordable clean fuel on a finite planet. … Today’s article is penned by wise woman Ellen Brown  and reposted from Counter Punch. It reveals some of the latest desperate strategies of our capitalist bankers.

Hang Onto Your Wallets: Negative Interest, the War on Cash and the $10 Trillion Bail-in

Ellen Brown

Remember those old ads showing a senior couple lounging on a warm beach, captioned “Let your money work for you”? Or the scene in Mary Poppins where young Michael is being advised to put his tuppence in the bank, so that it can compound into “all manner of private enterprise,” including “bonds, chattels, dividends, shares, shipyards, amalgamations . . . ”?

That may still work if you’re a Wall Street banker, but if you’re an ordinary saver with your money in the bank, you may soon be paying the bank to hold your funds rather than the reverse.

Four European central banks – the European Central Bank, the Swiss National Bank, Sweden’s Riksbank, and Denmark’s Nationalbank – have now imposed negative interest rates on the reserves they hold for commercial banks; and discussion has turned to whether it’s time to pass those costs on to consumers. The Bank of Japan and the Federal Reserve are still at ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy), but several Fed officials have also begun calling for NIRP (negative rates).

The stated justification for this move is to stimulate “demand” by forcing consumers to withdraw their money and go shopping with it. When an economy is struggling, it is standard practice for a central bank to cut interest rates, making saving less attractive. This is supposed to boost spending and kick-start an economic recovery.

That is the theory, but central banks have already pushed the prime rate to zero, and still their economies are languishing. To the uninitiated observer, that means the theory is wrong and needs to be scrapped. But not to our intrepid central bankers, who are now experimenting with pushing rates below zero.

Locking the Door to Bank Runs: the Cashless Society

The problem with imposing negative interest on savers, as explained in the UK Telegraph, is that “there’s a limit, what economists called the ‘zero lower bound’. Cut rates too deeply, and savers would end up facing negative returns. In that case, this could encourage people to take their savings out of the bank and hoard them in cash. This could slow, rather than boost, the economy.”

Again, to the ordinary observer, this would seem to signal that negative interest rates won’t work and the approach needs to be abandoned. But not to our undaunted central bankers, who have chosen instead to plug this hole in their leaky theory by moving to eliminate cash as an option. If your only choice is to keep your money in a digital account in a bank and spend it with a bank card or credit card or checks, negative interest can be imposed with impunity. This is already happening in Sweden, and other countries are close behind. As reported on Wolfstreet.com:

The War on Cash is advancing on all fronts. One region that has hogged the headlines with its war against physical currency is Scandinavia. Sweden became the first country to enlist its own citizens as largely willing guinea pigs in a dystopian economic experiment: negative interest rates in a cashless society. As Credit Suisse reports, no matter where you go or what you want to purchase, you will find a small ubiquitous sign saying “Vi hanterar ej kontanter” (“We don’t accept cash”) . . . .

The Lesson of Gesell’s Decaying Currency

Whether negative interests will actually stimulate an economic recovery, however, remains in doubt. Proponents of the theory cite Silvio Gesell and the Wörgl experiment of the 1930s. As explained by Charles Eisenstein in Sacred Economics:

The pioneering theoretician of negative-interest money was the German-Argentinean businessman Silvio Gesell, who called it “free-money” (Freigeld) . . . . The system he proposed in his 1906 masterwork, The Natural Economic Order, was to use paper currency to which a stamp costing a small fraction of the note’s value had to be affixed periodically. This effectively attached a maintenance cost to monetary wealth.

. . . [In 1932], the depressed town of Wörgl, Austria, issued its own stamp scrip inspired by Gesell . . . . The Wörgl currency was by all accounts a huge success. Roads were paved, bridges built, and back taxes were paid. The unemployment rate plummeted and the economy thrived, attracting the attention of nearby towns. Mayors and officials from all over the world began to visit Wörgl until, as in Germany, the central government abolished the Wörgl currency and the town slipped back into depression.

. . . [T]he Wörgl currency bore a demurrage rate [a maintenance charge for carrying money] of 1 percent per month. Contemporary accounts attributed to this the very rapid velocity of the currencies’ circulation. Instead of generating interest and growing, accumulation of wealth became a burden, much like possessions are a burden to the nomadic hunter-gatherer. As theorized by Gesell, money afflicted with loss-inducing properties ceased to be preferred over any other commodity as a store of value.

There is a critical difference, however, between the Wörgl currency and the modern-day central bankers’ negative interest scheme. The Wörgl government first issued its new “free money,” getting it into the local economy and increasing purchasing power, before taxing a portion of it back. And the proceeds of the stamp tax went to the city, to be used for the benefit of the taxpayers. As Eisenstein observes:

It is impossible to prove . . . that the rejuvenating effects of these currencies came from demurrage and not from the increase in the money supply . . . .

Today’s central bankers are proposing to tax existing money, diminishing spending power without first building it up. And the interest will go to private bankers, not to the local government.

Consumers today already have very little discretionary money. Imposing negative interest without first adding new money into the economy means they will have even less money to spend. This would be more likely to prompt them to save their scarce funds than to go on a shopping spree.

People are not keeping their money in the bank today for the interest (which is already nearly non-existent). It is for the convenience of writing checks, issuing bank cards, and storing their money in a “safe” place. They would no doubt be willing to pay a modest negative interest for that convenience; but if the fee got too high, they might pull their money out and save it elsewhere. The fee itself, however, would not drive them to buy things they did not otherwise need.

Is There a Bigger Threat than a Sluggish Economy?

The scheme to impose negative interest and eliminate cash seems so unlikely to stimulate the economy that one wonders if that is the real motive. Stopping tax evaders and terrorists (real or presumed) are other proposed justifications for going cashless. Economist Martin Armstrong goes further and suggests that the goal is to gain totalitarian control over our money. In a cashless society, our savings can be taxed away by the banks; the threat of bank runs by worried savers can be eliminated; and the too-big-to-fail banks can be assured that ample deposits will be there when they need to confiscate them through bail-ins to stay afloat.

And that may be the real threat on the horizon: a major derivatives default that hits the largest banks, those that do the vast majority of derivatives trading. On November 10, 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported the results of a study requested by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings, involving the cost to taxpayers of the rollback of the Dodd-Frank Act in the “cromnibus” spending bill last December. As Jessica Desvarieux put it on the Real News Network, “the rule reversal allows banks to keep $10 trillion in swaps trades on their books, which taxpayers could be on the hook for if the banks need another bailout.”

The promise of Dodd-Frank, however, was that there would be “no more taxpayer bailouts.” Instead, insolvent systemically-risky banks were supposed to “bail in” (confiscate) the money of their creditors, including their depositors (the largest class of creditor of any bank). That could explain the push to go cashless. By quietly eliminating the possibility of cash withdrawals, the central bank can make sure the deposits are there to be grabbed when disaster strikes.

If central bankers are seriously trying to stimulate the economy with negative interest rates, they need to repeat the Wörgl experiment in full. They need to first get some new money into the economy, money that goes directly to the consumers and local businessmen who will spend it. This could be achieved in a number of ways: with a national dividend; or by using quantitative easing for infrastructure or low-interest loans to states; or by funding free tuition for higher education. Consumers will hit the malls when they have some new discretionary income to spend.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 300+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.

November 26th, 2015


The History of Thanksgiving

Throughout history mankind has celebrated the bountiful harvest with thanksgiving ceremonies. At these ceremonies, many exchange Thanksgiving gifts and are reminded of everything they have to be thankful for.

Before the establishment of formal religions many ancient farmers believed that their crops contained spirits which caused the crops to grow and die. Many believed that these spirits would be released when the crops were harvested and they had to be destroyed or they would take revenge on the farmers who harvested them. Some of the harvest festivals celebrated the defeat of these spirits.

Harvest festivals and thanksgiving celebrations were held by the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Hebrews, the Chinese, and the Egyptians.

The Greeks

The ancient Greeks worshipped many gods and goddesses. Their goddess of grains was Demeter who was honored at the festival of Thesmosphoria held each autumn.

On the first day of the festival married women (possibility connecting childbearing and the raising of crops) would build leafy shelters and furnish them with couches made with plants. On the second day they fasted. On the third day a feast was held and offerings to the goddess Demeter were made – gifts of seed corn, cakes, fruit, and pigs. It was hoped that Demeter’s gratitude would grant them a good harvest.

The Romans

The Romans also celebrated a harvest festival called Cerelia, which honored Ceres their goddess of grains (from which the word cereal comes). The festival was held each year on October 4th and offerings of the first fruits of the harvest and pigs were offered to Ceres. Their celebration included music, parades, games and sports and a thanksgiving feast.

The Chinese

The ancient Chinese celebrated their harvest festival, Chung Ch’ui, with the full moon that fell on the 15th day of the 8th month. This day was considered the birthday of the moon and special “moon cakes”, round and yellow like the moon, would be baked. Each cake was stamped with the picture of a rabbit – as it was a rabbit, not a man, which the Chinese saw on the face of the moon.

The families ate a thanksgiving meal and feasted on roasted pig, harvested fruits and the “moon cakes”. It was believed that during the 3 day festival flowers would fall from the moon and those who saw them would be rewarded with good fortune.

According to legend Chung Ch’ui also gave thanks for another special occasion. China had been conquered by enemy armies who took control of the Chinese homes and food. The Chinese found themselves homeless and with no food. Many staved. In order to free themselves they decided to attack the invaders.

The women baked special moon cakes which were distributed to every family. In each cake was a secret message which contained the time for the attack. When the time came the invaders were surprised and easily defeated. Every year moon cakes are eaten in memory of this victory.

The Hebrews

Jewish families also celebrate a harvest festival called Sukkoth. Taking place each autumn, Sukkoth has been celebrated for over 3000 years.

Sukkoth is know by 2 names – Hag ha Succot – the Feast of the Tabernacles and Hag ha Asif – the Feast of Ingathering. Sukkoth begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, 5 days after Yom Kippur the most solemn day of the Jewish year.

Sukkoth is named for the huts (succots) that Moses and the Israelites lived in as they wandered the desert for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land. These huts were made of branches and were easy to assemble, take apart, and carry as the Israelites wandered through the desert.

When celebrating Sukkoth, which lasts for 8 days, the Jewish people build small huts of branches which recall the tabernacles of their ancestors. These huts are constructed as temporary shelters, as the branches are not driven into the ground and the roof is covered with foliage which is spaced to let the light in. Inside the huts are hung fruits and vegetables, including apples, grapes, corn, and pomegranates. On the first 2 nights of Sukkoth the families eat their meals in the huts under the evening sky.

The Egyptians

The ancient Egyptians celebrated their harvest festival in honor of Min, their god of vegetation and fertility. The festival was held in the springtime, the Egyptian’s harvest season.

The festival of Min featured a parade in which the Pharaoh took part. After the parade a great feast was held. Music, dancing, and sports were also part of the celebration.

When the Egyptian farmers harvested their corn, they wept and pretended to be grief-stricken. This was to deceive the spirit which they believed lived in the corn. They feared the spirit would become angry when the farmers cut down the corn where it lived.

The United States

In 1621, after a hard and devastating first year in the New World the Pilgrim’s fall harvest was very successful and plentiful. There was corn, fruits, vegetables, along with fish which was packed in salt, and meat that was smoke cured over fires. They found they had enough food to put away for the winter.

The Pilgrims had beaten the odds. They built homes in the wilderness, they raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, and they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. Their Governor, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving that was to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native American Indians.

The custom of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held after the harvest, continued through the years. During the American Revolution (late 1770’s) a day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress.

In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. By the middle of the 19th century many other states also celebrated a Thanksgiving Day. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.


Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated on the second Monday in October. Observance of the day began in 1879.


Reposted from Holidays on the Net