Destination: Thanksgiving Around the World

I always thought Thanksgiving was about the Pilgrims and Indians and maize!  Imagine my surprise to be able to share all this information with you.

The United States isn’t the only nation with a holiday dedicated to gratitude. Thanksgiving actually is a national holiday celebrated on various dates in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Liberia, and the sub-national entities Leiden, Norfolk Island, and Puerto Rico. It began as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year.


It may surprise you to learn that Canada’s first Thanksgiving celebration actually predates America’s—by more than 40 years. In 1578, an expedition led by the English navigator Martin Frobisher held a ceremony in what is now Nunavut, giving thanks for the safety of their fleet. This is considered the first-ever Thanksgiving celebration in North America, though in fact First Nations (the indigenous peoples of Canada) and Native Americans had been holding harvest festivals long before Europeans arrived. Loyalists who moved to Canada during the Revolutionary War introduced turkey, along with some other customs from the American Thanksgiving. Canada’s Parliament formally established a national Thanksgiving Day (November 6) in 1879; as of 1957, the date was changed to the second Monday in October. Thanksgiving traditions in Canada look very similar to American ones, including eating turkey and watching football (the Canadian Football League holds an annual Thanksgiving Day Classic) with family.


The German equivalent of Thanksgiving is Erntedankfest (“harvest festival of thanks”). This religious holiday often takes place on the first Sunday in October, which is often also the first Sunday following Michaelistag (Michaelmas) on September 29; different places mark the occasion on various dates in September and October.  Churches in German cities also join in on the celebration, giving thanks for the good fortune their congregations experienced that year. During a typical Erntedankfest, celebrants may carry an Erntekrone (“harvest crown”) of grains, fruit and flowers to the church in a solemn procession, and feast on such hearty fare as die Masthühnchen (fattened-up chickens) or der Kapaun (castrated roosters). Aren’t you glad I shared that detail?


This West African republic may seem an unlikely place for an American-style Thanksgiving tradition, but only until you consider its history. Freed slaves from the United States established Liberia in the early 1820s with help from the American Colonization Society, a private organization that believed returning African Americans to the country of their origins would provide them with greater opportunity, help spread Christianity to Africa and solve the nagging problem of slavery in the United States. In the early 1880s, Liberia’s government passed an act declaring the first Thursday of November as National Thanksgiving Day. Today, it’s a largely Christian holiday: Churches auction off baskets filled with local fruits like papayas and mangoes after their services, and local families feast on the bounty. Instead of turkey and pumpkin, Liberia’s Thanksgiving tables boast items such as spicy roast chicken and mashed cassavas, and live music and dancing are part of the Thanksgiving tradition.


Japan’s variation of Thanksgiving, Kinro Kansha no Hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day) evolved from an ancient rice harvest festival, Niinamesai, the roots of which go back as far as the seventh century A.D. From 1868-1912, the date of the festival was set as November 23, and it has remained the same since then. The modern tradition of Labor Thanksgiving Day began in 1948, just three years after World War II ended, as a celebration of the rights of Japan’s workers. Today, the public observes it as a national holiday, but with none of the huge feasting you’ll see on the American holiday. Instead, labor organizations lead events at which citizens are encouraged to celebrate the principles of hard work and community involvement. To mark the occasion, children often make thank-you cards for policemen, firefighters or other municipal workers.

Norfolk Island

This remote island in the Pacific Ocean, a former British penal colony and current Australian territory, is another unlikely place for a holiday celebration with American roots. In fact, its Thanksgiving tradition dates back to the mid-1890s, when the American trader Isaac Robinson decided to put on an American-style Thanksgiving service in the All Saints Church in Kingston in order to attract some visiting American whalers to the celebration. His plan worked, and parishioners on the island—otherwise best known for its namesake pine tree—continue to celebrate the holiday today, bringing fruits, vegetables and cornstalks to decorate the church and singing American hymns on the last Wednesday of November each year.

The Netherlands

It’s sometimes forgotten that of the English settlers who traveled to the New World on the Mayflower, some 40 percent spent the years 1609 to 1620 living and working in the Dutch city of Leiden. As a result, some have claimed that the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving celebration was actually inspired by Leiden’s annual commemoration of the breaking of the Spanish siege in 1574. In any case, the people of today’s Leiden continue to celebrate their ties with the Mayflower’s passengers by holding non-denominational church services on the fourth Thursday of November.

Puerto Rico

After Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States in the late 19th century, its residents enthusiastically adopted many of the traditions of the holiday. They celebrate it on the same day (fourth Thursday in November) and embrace the same Black Friday shopping craziness on the following day. But Puerto Ricans have put their own twist on the traditional Thanksgiving Day feast: There is usually turkey—whether a roasted, seasoned pavochón or a turkey stuffed with mofongo (a mashed plantain dish)—but roast pork is also a common item on the menu, accompanied with more plaintains, rice and beans.


Similar to the US holiday, the annual “Moon Festival” in China is a time to gather with families and loved ones, and give thanks for a successful harvest and plentiful nourishment.  The festival typically falls on the 15th day of September or October, when the moon is said to be at it’s brightest.  Thus, one of the customs marking the festival is mooncake, a flaky pastry with creamy filling. Chinese turkey is roasted like a traditional Thanksgiving turkey, but seasoned with Chinese herbs and spices.

Vietnam: Têt-Trung-Thu Festival

The Têt-Trung-Thu Festival in Vietnam also typically takes place on the 15th day of September or October, and is sometimes referred to as the “mid-autumn” festival or the “lantern festival.”  The festival is marked by gathering with friends and families to give thanks for blessings, and is also a time when families pray for success in the upcoming year (pregnancies and marriages especially.)  Lanterns and masks are also an important part of the festival, with towns and cities often displaying hundreds of paper lanterns of various colors, shapes and sizes while parades of costumed children and adults wind through the streets.

United Kingdom: Harvest Festival

In the UK, people give thanks for the year’s harvest on the full moon closest to the autumn equinox, usually occurring late Sep or early Oct.  Like the US festival, it’s a time to feast with family and friends and enjoy a break from the day-to-day work grind.  Marked by singing, hymns, and decorating local churches with fruit baskets or food, this celebration has been taking place in some form since Pagan times.

Brazil: Day of Thanksgivings

Inspired by an ambassador’s trip to the states in 1949, the Brazilian tradition was officially renamed “Dia de Ao de Graas”, or day of thanks giving.  Brazilian Thanksgiving also takes place on the fourth Thursday of November, and is marked by a turkey feast and a Mass at Church.  Carnivals and parades are also common!

Korea: Chuseok

Taking place on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, Chuseok is a major harvest festival that earns Koreans a 3 day holiday.  Families gather and celebrate with traditional Korean food like Japchae, bulgogi and songpyeon, and perform traditional rituals to remember loved ones that have passed.  Visiting tombs and memorial sites of family members is also common, where surviving relatives will make offerings of food, drink and crops.


Picture is my son, Tom. making gravy. I’ve learned how since then. LOL

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