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Thanksgiving Traditions Around the World

Is Thanksgiving solely an American Holiday? The short answer is no. While Thanksgiving celebrations may live under different names in countries around the world, there is no absence of these celebrations! Contrary to popular belief, the first Thanksgiving day or harvest celebration did not take place in the United States and actually dates back much farther than the birth of the New World. Thanksgiving traditions around the world vary in traditions and meaning.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a day of giving thanks and celebrating a successful harvest season as well as showing thanks for the many other good parts of life. The Thanksgiving Holiday or similar celebrations are currently celebrated in countries around the world, including Brazil, Canada, Grenada, Liberia, the United States and its territories, Leiden in the Netherlands, and Norfolk Island in Australia.

cooked chicken on white plate
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Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Canada-L’Action de Grâce

The Canadian thanksgiving holiday is celebrated on the second Monday in October. The holiday traces back to the year 1578, 40 years before the American holiday tradition of Thanksgiving was originally celebrated and is actually considered the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America.

The first Thanksgiving celebration in Canada was organized by Martin Frobisher, an English explorer who was celebrating a successful voyage to North America. The first celebration took place in Newfoundland. Thanksgiving was declared an official holiday in 1879, originally celebrated on November 6th before being moved to the second Monday in October.

Football is also a tradition in Canada on Thanksgiving, with the Canadian Football League playing a special that day.

When Does It Take Place?: 2nd Monday in October

The menu: Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, fall veggies, & pumpkin pie

bread food plate light, thanksgiving traditions
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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Liberia-Thanksgiving

Libera was established by freed American slaves in the early 1820’s with the assistance of the American Colonization Society. Thanksgiving in Liberia is about giving thanks for freedom and all the good things in life.

Thanksgiving was declared as an official holiday in the 1880’s. Today, the holiday is largely considered a Christian holiday. Thanksgiving traditions include the church auctioning off baskets or cornucopias filled with local fruits and live music with dancing.

When Does It Take Place: The first Thursday of November

The Menu: Spicy roast chicken, mashed cassavas, green bean casserole

yellow sunflower and red apple fruits on green table, thanksgiving traditions
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Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Germany-Erntedankfest

The Germany thanksgiving celebration is Erntedankfest, which translates to “harvest festival of thanks.” This German celebration has a strong religious aspect, taking place after Michaelistag (Michaelmas) on September 29. The festival is celebrated in Catholic and Protestant churches.

During the celebration, participants carry a Erntekrone, or “harvest crown,” of grains, fruit and flowers to the church in a solemn procession. Wine-tasting booths and food stands can be found along the streets. This is followed by singing and dancing and a second service in the evening. In many areas the celebration concludes with a Lanternumzug, or Lantern Parade and fireworks.

When Does It Take Place: 1st Sunday in October

The Menu: Dishes vary from family to family, but may include die Masthühnchen (fattened up chicken), der Kapaun (castrated roosters), Wienerschnitzel, and some have adapted the American tradition of turkey into their menus

Erntedankfest
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Erntedankfest. Photo Credit: Norbert Staudt on Flickr.

Norfolk Island-Thanksgiving

Norfolk Island is a small Australian Island and the only area in Australia that celebrates Thanksgiving (although there are various harvest festivals, such as the Lavender harvest festival, hops harvest festival, and wheat festival). Norfolk Island’s Thanksgiving celebration is greatly influenced by the American Thanksgiving traditions.

Norfolk Island was the common stopping place of American whalers and in 1887 Isaac Robinson, who had become an American diplomat on the island, decided he wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving on the island. After his death at sea the tradition continued. Traditions include decorating churches with corn stalks, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables. The TASTE Norfolk Island Food Festival is an annual tradition that takes place during Thanksgiving week and includes a large feast.

When Does It Take Place?: Last Wednesday of November

Menu: A mix of traditional American Thanksgiving food and local cuisine: Cornbread, banana dishes, roast meats, pumpkin pie, traditional Tahitian fish salad, corn, coconut bread, and salads.

family doing a thanksgiving toasts
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Photo by Askar Abayev on Pexels.com

South Korea-Chuseok

Chuseok is the Korean version of Thanksgiving that is celebrated as a three day festival. Family members return to the hometowns of their ancestors to celebrate the festival with their families. The day involves giving thanks, remembering one’s ancestors, and enjoying entertainment and games.

Traditions include placing Songpyeon, or a small rice cake that is stuffed with sweetened sesame seeds, pine nuts, or chestnuts, on a table as a way of giving thanks and honoring the dead. Another tradition is Beolcho, a ritual in which families clear weeds off of their loved ones graves, followed by a walk during which Korean folk games are played. Entertainment is also enjoyed, including samulnori (a traditional percussion quartet), talchum (a mask dance), ganggangsullae (a Korean circle dance), and ssireum (traditional Korean wrestling).

When Does It Take Place: Chuseok is celebrated on the brightest full moon of the year, usually sometime between September and October.

Menu: Songpyeon, traditional liquor and jeon (Korean pancakes, which are made from fish, meat, and vegetables fried in a batter of flour and eggs)

songpyeon, thanksgiving traditions
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Songpyeon. Photo Credit: Republic of Korea on Flickr.

Grenada

While the name is the same, Thanksgiving in Grenada has a very different meaning from the traditional Thanksgiving day celebration of the harvest. Thanksgiving in Grenada celebrates the joint US and Caribbean military efforts to rescue them from a communist takeover and restore constitutional government in 1983. In the days following many local villagers invited the soldiers to enter their homes and enjoy a feast.

Thanksgiving in Grenada is marked by ceremonies, mainly in the bigger cities. Many businesses are closed and families have get togethers and a day of relaxing.

When Does It Take Place?: October 25th

pumpkin display
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Photo by Artie Siegel on Pexels.com

Puerto Rico-Día de Acción de Gracias

Since Puerto Rico is a US territory, the Thanksgiving traditions are similar to that of main land USA. The day involves family get-togethers, a feast, and Black Friday shopping. Puerto Rico’s celebration of Thanksgiving began in the late 1800’s when it became a territory of the United States. Thanksgiving is also considered the unofficial kick-off to the Christmas season in Puerto Rico and many families begin their Christmas decorations at this time.

When Does It Take Place?: 4th Thursday in November

Menu: Pavochon (Turkey (often times stuffed with Mofongo), roast pork, plantains, Arroz con Habichuelas (rice and beans), Arroz con Gandules (rice with pigeon peas)

Arroz con Gandules, thanksgiving traditions
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Arroz con Gandules. Photo Credit: The Rican Chef on Flickr.

Brazil-Dia de Ação de Graças

Thanksgiving in Brazil originated after a request from Ambassador Joaquim Nabuco’s after his visit to Washington and fascination with the American holiday. Dia de Ação de Graças was recognized in 1949 by Eurico Gaspar Dutra.

The celebration is similar to the American celebration of Thanksgiving and is a day of giving thanks for one’s blessings. Some attend church services to give thanks to God for a successful year followed by a large meal and events similar to Autumn carnivals.

When Does It Take Place: Fourth Thursday of November

Menu: Peru (turkey), feijoada (black bean stew with salted and smoked pork and beef), jabuticaba sauce, sweet or mashed potatoes

cooked turkey on table
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Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

Leiden, Netherlands

A version of Thanksgiving similar to the US version is celebrated in Leiden. Leiden has some connection with the early American settlers. Before landing in Massachusetts, the Pilgrims stopped in Leiden in the Netherlands, where they lived and worked from 1609 to 1620. It is believed that Thanksgiving in the United States may have been influenced by the Relief of Leiden, a festival celebrated in the beginning of October in Leiden. Every year on the 4th Thursday in November people gather in Pieterskerk, a 900 year old church to celebrate the perseverance of the Pilgrims.

When Does It Take Place?: 4th Thursday in November

Menu: Turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, Dutch apple pie

thanksgiving traditions
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Apple Pie. Photo Credit: Kat Selvocki on Flickr.

China-Chung Chiu Moon Festival

The Chung Chiu Moon Festival is a three day celebration that involves a feast and giving thanks. Mooncakes, a round pastry that is usually made of duck egg yolks, lotus seed paste, and sesame seeds, are a main feature of the festival. Families share these mooncakes to represent unity and peace. Another tradition is watching the full moon and reciting poetry. This aspect of the festival is largely known as a chance for romance for couples, with even long distance couples watching the moon at the same time.

When Does It Take Place?: The 15th day of the eight Lunar cycle of the year (generally in September or October)

moon cake, thanksgiving traditions
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Mooncake. Photo Credit: Stella Sia on Flickr.

The United States

Thanksgiving in the United States commemorates the original feast held in 1621 to celebrate the first harvest in the new world by the pilgrims and Native Americans. Thanksgiving was celebrated through the years and officially became a national holiday in 1863. Thanksgiving includes a large feast with family and friends, with turkey as the center piece of the meal.

Other Thanksgiving traditions in the US include parades, most notably the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade held in NYC, family gatherings, and lots of football.

When Does It Take Place?: 4th Thursday in November

Menu: Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potatoes, Corn, other vegetables, and pumpkin pie

family doing a thanksgiving toasts, thanksgiving traditions
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Photo by Askar Abayev on Pexels.com

India-Ladin

Thanksgiving in some form is observed in several parts of India, with the majority being in the state of Goa. Different states celebrate a Thanksgiving like or harvest festival at some point during the year, although there is no publicly declared Thanksgiving Day. Ladin, or litany to the Virgin Mary, is a day of thanking God for material and spiritual blessings that is celebrated in Goa.

Some Ladin celebration traditions include the construction of temporary alters decorated with flowers, vines and creepers, singing hymns and prayers including the entire litany of the Virgin Mary, and a large meal.

When Does It Take Place?: End of November

Menu: Traditionally, any type of fowl, turkey with Indian spices are becoming more of a regular thing, mashed potatoes, corn, bread, rice, fruit salad, pumpkin pie, Indian sweets

cooked turkey on table
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Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

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