What do you think about when I say Thanksgiving? Do you already have your plans? Will you see family and friends? Eat family favorites? Are there family traditions? A football game out back or on TV by any chance?
A typical Thanksgiving in the United States conjures up images of family and friends, holiday shopping, football and too many slices of pumpkin pie. In the back of our minds, we also remember our second grade class when we learned that this day is recognition of an abundant harvest and celebrating friendship across cultures and languages. Today, our Thanksgiving reflects and connects us to our family’s cultural heritage and traditions through time. Does it also connect us to other cultures and countries?
How do other countries and cultures celebrate the bountiful harvest with family?
A look across the globe of celebrations shows that this holiday, though different from our traditional turkey and mashed potatoes, still has the core of family, thanks, and special and symbolic foods. Reading through thanksgiving traditions across the world, I am struck by what is in common rather than what is different. Is a Global Day of Thanksgiving in the works? I certainly hope so – one can never have enough days of family, friends, food and fun (and yummy desserts!). The following are snapshots of the far East and the near West, and the Northern and the Southern hemispheres. Enjoy your Thanksgiving celebration!
Thanksgiving around the world!
(from 6 Thanksgiving Celebrations Around the World)
- Canadian Thanksgiving
Our neighbors to the north actually celebrated Thanksgiving before Pilgrims even landed in Plymouth, Mass. When explorer Martin Frosbisher arrived in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1578, he celebrated with a small feast to give thanks for his safe arrival to the New World, an event that is now commemorated by contemporary Canadians on the second Monday of October. The earlier date is due to the fact that Canada’s Thanksgiving is more aligned with European harvest festivals, which traditionally occur in October. In addition, Canada is farther north, which means its harvest season ends earlier than America’s. But, besides the date, the celebrations are largely the same, with families gathering around tables piled high with turkey, stuffing, and pies.
- China: Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
Like the American Thanksgiving, China’s Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is a time for family and loved ones to celebrate the end of the harvest season with a giant feast. It is one of the most celebrated Chinese holidays, and is held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, around September or October on the Gregorian calendar. According to legend, the moon is at its brightest and roundest on this day, and may inspire rekindled friendship or romance. The festival’s traditional food is the mooncake, a flaky pastry stuffed with either sweet or savory filling.
- Korea: Chuseok
This day of thanks in late September and early October is one of Korea’s three major holidays. It’s a time for families to share food and stories, and pay respects to their ancestors. Along with a sprawling feast made from the fresh harvest, the main traditional dish is Songpyeon — glutinous rice kneaded into little cakes and filled with red beans, chestnuts, or other ingredients. The feast is laid out in honor of the deceased, and the family is allowed to dig into the tasty bounty only after a memorial service and, usually, a trip to the graveyard. But the three-day celebration isn’t just about food and death. Other organized activities include dancing, wrestling, and dressing in traditional costumes.
- Liberian: Thanksgiving
The Liberian Thanksgiving takes its inspiration directly from the American version, which isn’t surprising given that Liberia was founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from the U.S. They brought with them many of the customs they learned in the New World, including Thanksgiving, though they eat mashed cassavas instead of mashed potatoes, and jazz up their poultry with a little spice. The Liberian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday in November.
- Ghana: Homowo Festival
This yam harvest celebration in Accra, a coastal region of Ghana, is meant to commemorate a period of famine in the Ga people’s history. The word “homowo” means “hooted at hunger,” which is what their ancestors did in the face of famine, before getting to work cultivating the land for food. Today, the festival occurs around harvest time between May and August. During the harvest, women dig up the yams, the country’s staple crop, saving the best for the festival dinner. The yams and food are blessed by local chiefs, and the celebration ends with a giant feast that is often complemented by dancing, singing, and drum-playing.
- South India: Pongal, the Harvest Festival
Today, Pongal is a four-part celebration. The first day, Bhogi Pongal, honors Indra, the king of the gods as well as god of the rain and clouds. Families give offerings to Indra so that their harvest is bountiful. The Sun God, Surya Pongal, is honored on the second day with a special dish called sarkkarai pongal and sugarcane sticks. On the third day, known as Mattu Pongal, cowherds and shepherds pay thanks to their cows and bulls, painting and decorating the animals. On Kaanum Pongal, the final day, people travel to see family members to share their crops and give thanks to a successful harvest.
- Vietnam: Têt-Trung-Thu Festival
Also celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle, and with mooncakes, Vietnamese people give thanks and celebrate their families during what is also known as the Children’s Festival. Folklore says that during harvest, parents were so busy that this was a way to make amends for leaving them for so long. Parents would shower their children with love and appreciation, and a candlelit procession at dawn with handmade lanterns.
- United Kingdom: Harvest Festival
Saxon farmers would offer the first cut sheaf of corn and a sacrificial animal to one of their fertility gods to ensure a bountiful harvest. It was thought that the Spirit of the Corn lived in that first cut, and the tradition of making plaited corn dolls to hang in rafters each year began in order to protect the rest of the harvest.Today, the English still make the corn dolls and still celebrate the harvest with a supper that features the season’s produce. Children also take gifts of fruit and vegetables to churches and schools, which are distributed to the elderly and needy of the community.
- Germany: Erntedankfest
The German harvest celebration is observed in September or October. The day begins with a sermon, followed by a procession in which a traditional harvest crown is presented to the harvest queen, Ernteknigin. The day is further celebrated with music, dancing, and a bounty of fruits and vegetables from the harvest. While it’s not a grand day of family get-togethers and feasting like Thanksgiving in America, the unused food is distributed to the needy. There isn’t a turkey, either. Instead, chickens are fattened up in time for the feast. In some places, there is also an evening service followed by a lantern and torch parade, with fireworks for the children.
- Brazil: Day of Thanksgivings
In 1949, what was once a seasonal celebration to express gratitude to the Lord for a good harvest throughout the year, became Dia de Ao de Graas, a day of Thanksgivings, after the ambassador of Brazil was inspired by a visit to the U.S. The celebrations take place on the fourth Thursday of November, yet not all Brazilians partake in the festivities, as it is not an official holiday. Like in the U.S., there is a turkey and stuffing and accompanying dishes include mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Just as in the U.S., the most important part of the day is that it is full of food, family, and friends.
- Barbados: Crop Over Festival
Unlike America’s first Thanksgiving where there was no sugar (it was lost on the ride over on the Mayflower), Barbados’ celebrations are all about sugarcane. The Crop Over tradition began in 1688, and it begins with a ceremonial delivery of the last canes, followed by the presentation of harvest crowns to the man and woman who produced the most sugarcane. Partygoers enjoy fish cakes and barbecued chicken from nearby stands, and challenge others to climb greased poles or partake in feasting and drinking competitions. The event culminates with the Grand Kadooment a parade with mummer-esque bands dressed in elaborate costumes depicting various themes.
- Malaysia: “Kadazan Harvest” Celebration
What is just a side dish to us in the U.S., is a point of celebration in Sabah, Malaysia: Rice. This religious holiday is observed in May, after a season in the rice patties, to honor the rice god, Semangat, to offer gratitude for the good harvest.Carnivals are an important part of the celebration, as are cultural programs, agricultural shows, buffalo races, and traditional games. Homemade rice wine is distributed among locals dressed in traditional costumes.
6 Thanksgiving celebrations around the world, The Week Staff, November 22, 2012, http://theweek.com/article/index/236515/6-thanksgiving-celebrations-around-the-world
10 Thanksgiving Celebrations Around the World, The Daily Mail,