While American Thanksgiving is particularly well-defined, with turkey dinners and traditional sides and Macy’s parades and football on TV, other countries boast their own interesting and meaningful celebrations that make up their concept of Thanksgiving. From Canada to Japan and many points in between, here’s a view of the world through the lens of Thanksgiving and other, similar holiday celebrations.
Liberia brought the Thanksgiving tradition directly from America, owing to its beginnings as a resettlement colony for freed black Americans. The West African country declared its independence in 1847, but its American connection is still represented in its flag, which mirrors the U.S. design. They mark their celebration on the first Thursday in November.
One similar through-line that connects a lot of the Thanksgiving holidays is the celebration of harvest. That’s obviously connected to the tradition and imagery of our American holiday, but it definitely comes into play for Canada. Canadian Thanksgiving occurs in the second Monday of October. The Canadian celebration integrates a number of traditions, including turkey (an American contribution), although regional dishes like salmon are common. Like the States, Canada celebrates with a CFL Football game, while the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Thanksgiving parade runs on CTV.
Australian Thanksgiving is like American Thanksgiving, except that all of the dishes can kill you. Okay, not really, but it is celebrated as a direct result of sailors and whaling ships bringing the tradition to Norfolk Island, which is an Australian territory. They celebrate it there on the last Wednesday of November. More Australians have adopted the observation of the holiday, as 2016 saw a boost in turkey sales both in November and in July. The July increase comes from the phenomenon of “Christmas in July,” when European transplants have Christmas-style festivities because that’s when the weather Down Under is closest to that of winter in Europe.
Japan marks a November holiday called Labor Thanksgiving Day, traditionally held on the 23rd. Its historical beginning goes back to the harvest celebration of Niiname-no-Matsuri, which was a Shinto ritual enacted by the Emperor. It picked up the Labor Thanksgiving Day name and official holiday status during the post-World War II occupation of Japan by the United States. The modern interpretation of the event commemorates labor, production, and peace. School children make cards for public servants like health care workers, police, firefighters, and members of the Japanese Self-Defense Force and Coast Guard. Family dinners are a staple of the day.
5. United Kingdom
The closest direct antecedent to American Thanksgiving would be the Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving observed in the U.K. Extending back to ancient Britain, the celebration would come in the form of a community gathering and meal upon the completion of the harvest. The official date is set for September or October, and collecting food to donate to charities is a common activity.
Germany has Erntedankfest, another harvest celebration, that is largely religious in nature. It takes place on the first Sunday of October. Americans are more familiar with Oktoberfest, which runs over two weeks and generally crosses over the date of Erntedankfest. Oktoberfest, however, likely originated as a continuing tradition that began with a royal wedding, whereas Erntedankfest is a more sedate, gratitude-oriented affair.
The Harvest Thanksgiving Festival of India is called Thai Pongal (or Ponkal). The four-day January festival was traditionally held in praise of the Sun God, and a has a history that runs back more than ten centuries. There are other similar festivals throughout India, including Makar Sankranti on the Hindu calendar, and Puspuni, which hails from the Indian state of Odisha. Rice is central to all the celebrations; a key event in Thai Pongal is the ceremonial boiling of the first rice of the harvest season.
8. The Philippines
The Philippines has had an on-off relationship with Thanksgiving. As an American colony, it held a very American version of Thanksgiving. The celebration went underground during World War II when Japan occupied the islands, lasting until the late ’60s as a kind of secret event. President Ferdinand Marcos reinstituted it as a September observation under his reign, but it was discontinued after his ouster in 1986. Thanksgiving exists today primarily due to the aggressive marketing of the SM Supermalls chain of shopping centers. Businesses now offer big Thanksgiving sales around September, which is seen of the official kick-off of the (very long) Christmas season for the islands.
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