Thanksgiving is a traditional holiday for Catholics, which is celebrated annually in the United States and Canada. It is an occasion with family and friends to give thanks. This day began over 400 years ago with early settlers and native Indians eating together while giving thanks for the harvest of the prior year. Today, because most people don’t grow their own food or have crops, the holiday is a time where people give thanks for their blessings.
But, did you know that Thanksgiving isn’t only a holiday of America? It turns out similar celebrations take place all over the world. While traditions may be different in each country, the underlying sentiment is the same. It’s an opportunity to spend time with friends and family and reflect on what the most important in life is.
Let’s see how other countries organize their Thanksgiving holiday.
1 – Canada
Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving every year on the second Monday in October. Going back in history, the Canadian Thanksgiving was first celebrated reportedly in 1579, which was 40 years before the American holiday was established. 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.
In most parts of the country, workers automatically get the day off. But for Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s an optional holiday and some workers might not have the day off. Because the holiday is on a Monday, it’s generally acceptable to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving Day feast at any point during the long weekend.
That being said, foods served for Canada’s Thanksgiving are almost exactly the same as America’s with turkey being the choice for the meat, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and corn as side dishes. The most common dessert is pumpkin pie.
2 – Vietnam (Tết-Trung-Thu Festival)
Têt-Trung-Thu Festival (Mid-Autumn Festival) is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle (between the end of September and early October, and always during the full moon). Vietnam’s Têt-Trung-Thu is a time to give thanks and celebrate the end of harvest.
According to folklore, parents used to be so busy working in the fields in the months leading up to harvest, they worried their children felt neglected. The festival was a way to show children they were loved and appreciated, complete with a candlelit procession at dawn in their honor. On this day, Vietnamese families come together for a feast that features a sweet delicacy called the mooncake.
Mooncakes are round pastries that typically contain duck egg yolks, lotus seed paste, and sesame seeds. The yolk represents the full moon, and the cakes usually have the baker’s logo or insignia embossed on the top.
Family and friends share mooncakes with one another, signifying unity and peace for the coming season.
3 – Japan
Japan observes Labor Thanksgiving Day on November 23 each year. This celebration actually started in the seventh century and celebrated the harvest season. As time went on and Japan became more of an industrial country rather than a farming one, the celebrations began to honor workers instead of farmers.
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.
4 – South Korea
Korea’s Thanksgiving holiday is known as Chuseok and also Hangawi. And it is celebrated on the same day as the Vietnamese harvest festivals are celebrated, the 15th day of the eighth month.
One of the most important foods is a rice cake known as songpyeon. The rice cake’s dough is made using finely ground, new rice, and filled with sesame seeds, chestnuts, red beans, or other delights and molded into a small ball. Families come together on the night before Chuseok to make songpyeon as a bonding activity, illustrating the importance of family in Korean culture.
5 – Germany
Germany’s Thanksgiving holiday is called Erntedankfest, which translates to “harvest thanksgiving festival.”. 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. In different places, they mark the occasion on various dates in September and October.
It is mostly celebrated by rural religious groups and is a time for farmland cultures to give thanks and honor their harvest. Not only is it celebrated in Germany, but also in most of the German-speaking countries like Austria and Switzerland. Erntedankfest has a religious element to it so church services often begin the celebration.
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).
6 – The Netherlands
The Dutch version of Thanksgiving is directly related to the holiday in the U.S. Dutch pilgrims, who traveled to the New World on the Mayflower. The Speedwell ship left the Netherland city of Leiden in 1620 and sailed to Southampton, England where it picked up English pilgrims to travel together to America. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the same day in Leiden as in America.
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.
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7 – Liberia
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.
8 – 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. The holiday is to mark the beginning of the Christmas season, hold large family gatherings and begin decorating for Christmas.
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 plantains, rice, and beans.
To conclude, wherever you are in the world, you probably give thanks for the natural gifts given by nature and the gods. This occasion brings people together, gives cultures reason to celebrate, and provides a time for all people to reflect back on the wonderful disposition of their culture’s prosperity for the year. And no matter where or how you’re celebrating. Happy Thanksgiving!