While Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday in regards to the events in history we are giving thanks to, various countries around the world celebrate a similar “Thanksgiving” holiday where their thanks may be given to a harvest or to an an entirely different part of their history or culture. Below, we look at various Thanksgiving celebrations around the world- where and how they are celebrated as well as the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday and how it ties in to local history and culture. While Thanksgiving celebrations around the world may all look a little different, one thing is for certain- no matter where we are or where we come from, we can all find something to be thankful for!
Many people don’t know this, but when the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in England, they first settled in the Dutch town of Leiden where they stayed for just over 10 years before deciding to sail to the New World. They spent the years 1609 through 1620 living in the Netherlands, a temporary safe haven that allowed them to worship freely.
Today, many people in Netherlands still honor these Pilgrims, however brief their stay, with a special church service, cookies and coffee. It is not a national holiday but is celebrated widely throughout the Netherlands, especially in orthodox Protestant churches. Most celebrations take places on the first Wednesday in November while there is a special Thanksgiving Day service held by the Pieterskerk, a non-denominational church in Leiden, each year on the same day as America’s Thanksgiving.
The origins of Canada’s Thanksgiving are somewhat controversial. Some historians believe the first Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1587 when Martin Frobisher celebrated his fleet’s safe travels in the Arctic while in search of the Northwest Passage. Others trace the origins of Canada’s Thanksgiving to French settlers in the 17th century who gathered to celebrate their successful harvest at the end of the harvest season. It is also said that during the American Revolution, a number of American soldiers spending time in Canada brought with them American Thanksgiving traditions of turkey and pumpkins. However it began, Thanksgiving In Canada was made a national holiday in 1897 and is celebrated on the second Monday in October as “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.”
Brazil celebrates a festival known as Dia de Ação de Graças, or “A Day of Giving Thanks” that coincides with American Thanksgiving. In 1905, Joaquim Nabuco became Brazil’s first ambassador to the US and when he returned home to Brazil he brought with him elements of America’s Thanksgiving celebration and melded them with Brazil’s annual harvest celebration. Dia de Ação de Graças is not an official holiday in Brazil, but many celebrate across the country with traditional American Thanksgiving foods including turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie!
Germany, Austria and Switzerland
Erntedankfest is a religious holiday celebrated in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on the first Sunday of October. It is a harvest festival that celebrates giving thanks for a good year. Celebrated in both rural areas and in big cities, Erntedankfest is a “harvest festival of thanks” with feasts that feature chickens, hens, and geese over the traditional American turkey. The celebrations also include church services, musical performances, dancing, lantern parades and fireworks.
In Japan, Kinro Kansha no Hi, or Labor Thanksgiving Day, is a national holiday celebrate on November 23rd. It is derived from ancient harvest festival rituals but the modern celebrations focus more on honoring hard work and community involvement. While the harvest festival rituals, named Niinamesai, go back thousands of years, Kinro Kansha no Hi became a national holiday in 1984 as a way of celebrating the rights and accomplishments of workers in the post World War II era. Today, the celebrations revolve around labor organizations, with children creating and gifting crafts to local police officers and other workers.
Homowo is a harvest festival celebrated in Ghana. The Festival of the Yams is celebrated in August or September and is dedicated to a plentiful harvest and the hope that the country will not experience any famine in the coming year. Focused around the yam harvest, villages work hard to yield the largest harvest. Villages come together to share their harvests and special dishes are made out of the yams. The celebrations also include singing and dancing and special animal masks with special acknowledgements made for a bountiful year.
Liberia actually celebrates something quite similar to American Thanksgiving because the celebration was founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from America. Today, it is celebrated by Christians throughout Liberia on the first Thursday of November. There are church celebrations where baskets are filled with delicious fruits such as pineapples, mangoes, papayas and bananas and then auctioned off after church services. Families celebrate after the church services with giant feasts and concerts with music and dancing.
In Vietnam, the Têt-Trung-Thu Festival, also known as the Children’s Festival, is a celebration of giving thanks for a good harvest and a celebration of children. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle, which usually falls at the end of September or beginning of October and always falls during the full moon. Historians say that in ancient times, adults used to be so busy working in the fields during harvest season that they often felt their children were neglected for that period of time. The Têt-Trung-Thu festival was a way they celebrated the harvest and also celebrated their children at the end of the busy harvest season. Parents used this celebration to show their children how loved and appreciated they were, culminating with a candle lit parade at dawn in their children’s honor. Today, the festival continues to celebrate children. In fact, it is one of the most important holidays in Vietnam!
Granada’s version of Thanksgiving is truly unique in that it shares no relation with American Thanksgiving but would not exist if it weren’t for America! in 1983, a US military invasion took place to restore social order after the death of socialist leader Maurice Bishop. American soldiers shared their traditional Thanksgiving traditions with locals and to show their own gratitude, the local people surprised the soldiers with a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Today, the country continues this celebration on October 25th to remember the US led invasion and the soldiers who introduced them to American Thanksgiving!
If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving this year, be sure to check out our Thanksgiving Travel Tips!