Time to celebrate Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day is an American tradition that dates back to 1621, when European colonists held a harvest feast with Native Americans/American Indians. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed late November, Thanksgiving. In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt tried to bring the holiday forward by a few days, but in the face of widespread discontent, he finally agreed to make the fourth Thursday in November an official holiday.
Over the years, special traditions and customs associated with the holiday have evolved, from watching an afternoon soccer game to marking the start of the holiday shopping season. The basic components of the holiday — celebrating food, the fall harvest, and giving thanks with family — have been preserved over time.
How countries around the world celebrate their Thanksgiving holiday - a time to be with family and reflect on what we are thankful for
Germany’s Thanksgiving is known as Erntedankfest, which translates to “harvest thanksgiving festival.” It is mostly celebrated by rural, religious groups, and is an opportunity for these farmland cultures to give thanks and honor their harvest.
It is celebrated in larger cities too but is more of a church service and not much like America’s Thanksgiving. There also isn’t any officially designated day for the celebration, and festivity dates vary across the country. Usually, it is recommended to celebrate on the first Sunday in October.
The holiday isn’t just exclusive to Germany — most German-speaking countries also take part in the festivities, like Austria and Switzerland. Unlike an American Thanksgiving where we stay at home with close friends and family, German communities take their festivities to the streets and town square for parades, music, dancing, and, of course, food.
As many countries celebrate some form of a harvest festival honoring the gift of food, Israel has their own as well, and it’s known as Sukkot or the Feast of the Tabernacles. Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest and commemorates the miraculous protection God provided for the children of Israel when they left Egypt.
The celebration lasts for seven days and begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. When the celebration falls on the western calendar varies, but Sukkot typically happens in October.
Special prayers and psalms are read at different points during the seven-day celebration, and everyone is encouraged to spend as much time in their sukkah (a temporary hut) as possible.
Sukkot is perhaps the Thanksgiving holiday that is most heavily influenced by religion, but it is nonetheless a celebration of the same central themes as all of these holidays and festivals: food, family, and thankfulness.
For over 30 years, the people of the island nation of Grenada have considered Oct. 25 their Thanksgiving Day – the tradition began in 1983 to commemorate the American and Caribbean intervention in Grenada.
Grenada is known for its coastal towns and sandy beaches. Four years before the first-ever Grenadian Thanksgiving holiday, the country’s democratic government was overthrown in a coup led by an insurgent socialist dictatorship.
President Ronald Reagan became increasingly invested in Grenada during this time particularly because there were U.S. students and faculty attending medical school at St. George’s University in Grenada and a concern for a hostage situation there. On Oct. 25, Grenada was invaded by forces from the U.S., the Regional Security System, and Jamaica.
After the invasion and with the American Thanksgiving holiday approaching, U.S. soldiers shared their traditions and customs with the locals. Grenadians, in an effort to show gratitude, invited soldiers to eat with them on Thanksgiving. There they prepared some of the island nation’s standard plates — which are still consumed on the holiday today.
How Asian countries celebrate Thanksgiving?
Many Asian countries celebrate Thanksgiving by way of honoring the harvest in the autumn season. A similar holiday in China would be the Mid-Autumn or the Moon Festival introduced in our last issue. The mid-autumn festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar. The holiday’s roots can be traced back more than 2,500 years, long before Europeans ever set foot in the new world. Additionally, rather than Thanksgiving staple pumpkin pie, the favorite Chinese dessert is moon cake, a baked concoction filled with sesame seeds, ground lotus seeds, and duck eggs. Similarly in South Korea, Korea’s Thanksgiving holiday is known as Chuseok, which is celebrated on the same day that the Chinese and Vietnamese harvest festivals are.
Japanese people celebrate their Labor Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 23 each year. But all government entities in Japan are closed on this day in celebration of the country’s industrial workers and progress.
The origin of Japan’s Thanksgiving holiday dates back to the seventh century. It was originally known as Niinamesai, and the holiday celebrated the welcome of the harvest season. But as Japan progressed and evolved into an industrial country rather than an agrarian one, the celebrations switched from honoring farmers to honoring workers.
Many special events are held across the country in honor of the holiday.
One of the biggest celebrations is the Nagano Labour Festival, which celebrates the environment, peace, and human rights. Nagano is also the city that hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1998 and holds a special place in Japan’s history.
Another country that celebrates Thanksgiving by way of honoring the harvest is Malaysia. They observe the Kaamatan harvest festival, which is celebrated in the state of Sabah in Malaysia.
It’s celebrated by the native ethnic Kadazan-Dusuns people for the month of May and culminates in a two-day public holiday that’s celebrated throughout the country.
Rice is very important in the Kadazandusun communities, and as such rice is the main ingredient in the dishes served during the festival. Rice wines are also made and widely consumed.
There are numerous ritual ceremonies taken during the month-long festival. The closing ceremony for the festival, called the Humabot ceremony, takes place on the last day of the month-long celebration. It’s the liveliest ceremony filled with a ton of different games and activities, including traditional dance and song performances.
South India’s harvest festival is called Pongal, which is a four-day celebration. Each day brings its own traditional customs dedicated to specific gods.
On the first day, families come together to give harvest offerings to Indra, the god of the rain, and the clouds. On the next day, Surya Pongal, families honor the sun god by making a sugarcane dish called sakkarai pongal.
Mattu Pongal is the third day where shepherds give thanks to their cows by painting them. The final day, Kanu Pongal, is when families travel to see their extended family and share food to give thanks for a good harvest.
Pongal begins on the first day of the month of Thai, which is after the rainy month of Margazhi. It varies on the Gregorian calendar, but Pongal usually falls in mid-January.