How 7 Places Around the World Celebrate Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving seems like a holiday that's as American as apple pie, or pumpkin pie for that matter. But actually, there are variants of this day all around the world. Their meanings, dates, and customs may vary, but they all revolve around the concept of gratitude.
A religious holiday that often takes place on the first Sunday of October, Erntedankfest is essentially a harvest festival that gives thanks for a good year and good fortune. In rural areas, the harvest aspect might be taken more literally, but churches in cities also hold festivities. This might include a procession with an Erntekrone, a harvest crown made of grain, flowers, and fruit. Although turkeys are making inroads, fattened up chickens (die Masthähnchen), hens (die Poularde), castrated roosters (der Kapaun), and geese (die Gans) are favored for the feast.
Kinrō Kansha no Hi is a national public holiday that Japan celebrates every November 23. Derived from ancient harvest festival rituals named Niinamesai, its modern meaning is more tied to a celebration of hard work and community involvement, hence its translation: Labor Thanksgiving Day. While Niinamesai's traditions reach back thousands of years, Kinrō Kansha no Hi was created officially in 1948. It was intended to celebrate the rights of workers in post-World War II Japan. Today it’s celebrated with labor organization-led festivities, and children creating crafts and gifts for local police officers.
Arising from the same European origins of harvest festivals that led to the United States's version, Canadian Thanksgiving was first celebrated in 1578, when English explorer Martin Frobisher gave thanks for his fleet's safe travels in present-day Nunavut. Parliament made it a national holiday in 1879. But in 1957, Parliament moved it from November 6, declaring, "A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed."
The West Indian island's version of Thanksgiving shares no origin with America's, and yet would not exist without the United States. Held on October 25 every year, Grenada's Thanksgiving marks the anniversary of the 1983 U.S. military invasion to restore order after the death of socialist leader Maurice Bishop. American soldiers who were stationed in the country the following month told locals about their upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, its signature feast, and its intention to focus on gratitude. To show their own gratitude, the people of Grenada worked in secret to surprise the soldiers with meals like those they longed for, complete with turkey and all the fixings. Today, the holiday is celebrated in formal ceremonies of remembrance.
A variation on America's Thanksgiving can be found in the West African nation of Liberia, which was founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from the U.S. The holiday is celebrated primarily by Christians on the first Thursday of November. Liberians fill their churches with baskets of local fruits like bananas, papayas, mangoes, and pineapples; an auction for the baskets is held after the service, and then families retreat to their homes to feast. Concerts and dancing have evolved as a distinctive part of Liberia's Thanksgiving traditions.
6. The Netherlands
Before the Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower for the New World, they lived in Leiden in the Netherlands, where they settled after leaving England to escape religious persecution. They lived and worked in Leiden from 1609 to 1620. The Dutch have claimed influence on several elements of colonial American life from this contact, including civil marriages, ladder-back chairs, and wood-planked house construction. Some even suggest the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving found inspiration in Leiden's annual commemoration of the breaking of the Spanish siege of 1574. Regardless, the people of Leiden still celebrate the American settlers who once lived there with a non-denominational church service on the fourth Thursday of November. Afterwards, cookies and coffee are offered [PDF].
7. Norfolk Island
Like Grenada, this small and remote Pacific Island that sits between Australia and New Zealand owes its Thanksgiving to contact with the U.S., specifically with its whalers in the mid-1890s. It began when American trader Isaac Robinson proposed decorating the All Saints Church with palm leaves and lemons, hoping to attract whalers to a Thanksgiving service/celebration. Though Robinson passed away before the following Thanksgiving, the tradition caught on. Now on the last Wednesday of November, families bring fruit and vegetables to the church to celebrate, tying cornstalks to pews, and decorating the altar with fresh flowers. Where they would once recollect their offerings afterwards, now these are sold to raise money for the church.