Thanksgiving, which is hugely celebrated as a national holiday in the United States and Canada, is rooted in the tradition of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the ending year. The practice came as Puritan and Pilgrim settlers from Europe, mainly from England and France, emigrated to North America in the 17th century.
According to the Plimoth Plantation museum, natives in North America held ceremonies to give thanks “for successful harvests, for the hope of a good growing season in the early spring, and for other good fortune such as the birth of a child”. The museum further adds that giving thanks was, and still is, the primary reason for ceremonies or celebrations. Nowadays, it is given particular attention in the US and the holiday is widely associated with family reunions, and feasts of roasted turkey with stuffing and pumpkin pie.
By no means does this tidbit of history make the holiday exclusively North American however, as many other countries have developed their own traditions and ceremonies similar to that of Thanksgiving. We’ve compiled a list.
The German counterpart to Thanksgiving is Erntedankfest, a religious holiday that often takes place on the first Sunday of October. The holiday is often also the first Sunday following Michaelistag (Michaelmas) on Sept. 29, but different places hold the celebrations on various dates in September and October. In rural areas particularly, Erntedankfest is a rural harvest time observance with church services, a parade, music, and a country fair atmosphere — to show thanks to good harvest and good fortune — but Protestant and Catholic churches in cities also hold festivities.
During the holiday, celebrants carry an Erntekrone or a crown made of grains, fruit and flowers to the church in a solemn procession. Additionally, Die Masthühnchen or fattened-up chickens and other poultry dishes like castrated roosters and geese are served in a feast.
Kinrō Kansha no Hi, Japan’s take on Thanksgiving, is observed as a national public holiday every Nov. 23. The celebration goes back as far as the seventh century, when the ancient rice harvest festival rituals called Niinamesai were being celebrated. During the Meiji Era in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the date of the festival was set, and it was celebrated ever since.
Nowadays, Kinrō Kansha no Hi is more tied to a celebration of hard work and community involvement, and is commonly referred to as Labor Thanksgiving Day. This new, more modern tradition was made official a short time after World War II, with the intention of honoring and celebrating the rights of workers, labor organizations, and public servants like police officers, firemen, and municipal workers.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated by the Chinese to give thanks for the harvest on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Similar harvest practices have been observed since the Shang dynasty going as far back as 1600 BCE, but the celebration as a festival only started to gain popularity during the early Tang dynasty around 618-907 CE. Moon worship plays a huge part in the festivities, believing the moon to be associated with rejuvenation. In some parts of China, there are still customs in which offerings to lunar deities are commonplace during the celebration. Chinese delicacies like moon cakes are given to family and friends during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The Brazilian Thanksgiving is quite similar to its US equivalent. Named Dia de Ação de Graças, it is believed to be an imitation of the American holiday created by President Gaspar Dutra in the 1940s after the Ambassador of Brazil visited the US and told him about it.
In southern Brazil, the celebration is dedicated to expressing gratitude to the Almighty God for a prosperous harvest. It often begins with a church service and culminates in an autumn version of the carnival.
Chuseok, or literally Fall Eve or Autumn Eve, is a major harvest festival in North and South Korea. Much like China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, the three-day holiday is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. To celebrate and give thanks to good harvest, Koreans make dishes consisting of rice, beans, sesame seeds, and chestnuts called ‘songpyeon’, and rice wines like sindoju and dongdongju, unique to the occasion. They also have a custom of visiting their ancestral hometowns during the holiday, and play a variety of folk games like ssireum, or a form of wrestling.
India, Sri Langka, Malaysia, etc.
The Tamil people all over the world celebrate Thai Pongal as their Harvest Thanksgiving Festival. With origins dating back to time of the Medieval Chola empire, Thai Pongal is an ancient four-day festival, which normally occurs from Jan. 14 to Jan. 16, or the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi to the third day of the Tamil month Thai. The festival is mainly observed to convey appreciation to the Sun God for a successful harvest. As part of the celebrations, Tamil people boil the first rice of the season to be consecrated to the Sun — the Surya Maangalyam. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran