Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday celebrated with friends and family to give thanks. It began over 400 years ago with early settlers and native Indians eating together while giving thanks for the harvest of the prior year. Nowadays, since most people don’t grow their own food or have crops they are dependent on, the holiday is a time where people give thanks for their blessings. Typical American customs include the Thanksgiving Day Parade, football games, and turkey feasts with friends and family.
But, did you know that America isn’t the only country that has Thanksgiving celebrations? Seventeen countries celebrate their own version of Thanksgiving! Some festivities commemorate the beginning of a new lunar cycle to welcome the harvest. While traditions may be different in each country, the underlying sentiment is the same: it’s a chance to spend time with friends and family and reflect on what is most important in life.
Let’s take a look at how some countries other than America commemorate their Thanksgiving holiday. And, why not try to incorporate another culture’s tradition into your Thanksgiving celebration this year!
The Canadian Thanksgiving was first celebrated reportedly in 1579, which was 40 years before the American holiday was established. English explorer Martin Frobisher organized the celebration in Newfoundland to give thanks for a successful voyage to North America. Over time, post-Revolutionary War, Canada’s holiday was influenced by Americans who, remaining loyal to England, moved to Canada and took their American traditions with them. 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.
Chinese Thanksgiving is a 3-day feast called Chung Chiu Moon Festival, or the fall harvest. It occurs on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle of the year, which is mid-August. The food that is featured is a mooncake, a round pastry that typically contains duck egg yolks, lotus seed paste, and sesame seeds. The yolk represents the full moon and the cakes usually have the baker’s logo embossed on top. Family and friends share mooncakes with one another to signify unity and peace for the coming season.
Germany’s Thanksgiving holiday is called Erntedankfest and occurs in early October. Erntedankfest translates to “harvest thanksgiving festival.” 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. “Lantern parades,” called laternenumzug, are organized for the evening.
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. It is now a national holiday that was adopted after World War II during the American occupation.
Korea’s Thanksgiving holiday is known as Chuseok and also Hangawi and is celebrated on the same day as the Chinese and 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.
The Dutch version of Thanksgiving is directly related to the holiday in the U.S. Dutch pilgrims were also among those who moved across the Atlantic for the new land of opportunities. 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 the Americas. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the same day in Leiden as in America. One of their traditions is for Leiden’s residents to gather in a 900-year old church and celebrate the Speedwell’s successful voyage to the Americas.
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