Thanksgiving Around the World
Thanksgiving (or “Action de Grâce” in French Canada) is celebrated on the second Monday of October. This was established in 1957 by decree of the Governor General of Canada who issued the proclamation of “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed—to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.”
The origin of Canadian Thanksgiving stems from a combination of events dating back to 1578, when explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew held a feast to express gratitude for their safe return from an Arctic journey. Not long after, French settlers arrived and held feasts with their indigenous neighbours. During the American Revolution, a number of Loyalists moved to Canada, bringing their Thanksgiving traditions with them, including turkey and pumpkins. This goes some way in explaining the fact that Canadian and American Thanksgiving share a set of cherished traditions: a much-needed long weekend, spending time with family, watching football, and feasting!
How Thanksgiving is Celebrated in the United States
Thanksgiving in the USA is very similar to the Canadian holiday, except for its date. In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, kicking off a four-day long weekend. To mark the holiday, friends and family gather around the table to enjoy each other’s company, eat a hearty plate of turkey and pumpkin pie, and share what they’re thankful for from the past year.
American Thanksgiving can be traced back to the landing of the Mayflower in 1620. After sailing across the Atlantic, the Pilgrims from England found their early months in the New World difficult, but, with help from Native Americans, they were soon thriving. At the end of their first successful harvest, they invited the Native Americans to share a meal with them, as a gesture of thanks.
The holiday was observed sporadically over the following centuries, but it wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
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How Thanksgiving is Celebrated in the Netherlands
The original Pilgrims were religious separatists from 17th-century England, who were unhappy with the Church of England’s new direction. King James punished their rebellion with fines, imprisonment, and even execution. Understandably, they fled. After a brief stop in Amsterdam, they arrived in the Dutch town of Leiden, where they were free to worship how they wished. Ultimately, Holland’s economic instability and liberal leanings led them to sail to America, as established above.
Even though they spent less than a decade there, Leiden had provided the Pilgrims with a temporary safe haven that was much appreciated. Apparently, the Dutch thought pretty highly of the Pilgrims, too. Every year on American Thanksgiving Day, Leiden commemorates the religious refugees who lived and worked there centuries before. Residents of the city gather for a non-denominational service in honour of the Pilgrims’ perseverance. There’s no coma-inducing feast, but cookies and coffee are served.
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How Thanksgiving is Celebrated in Brazil: Dia de Ação de Graças
In 1905, Joaquim Nabuco became the first Brazilian ambassador to the United States. When he returned home, Nabuco melded elements of American Thanksgiving with Brazil’s traditional religious celebration to mark the annual harvest. The result: A festival known as Dia de Ação de Graças—a day of giving thanks—to coincide with American Thanksgiving. Although not all Brazilians participate in the festival (it’s not an officially-recognized holiday), those that do gather with family and friends to eat turkey and stuffing, along with pumpkin pie and sweet or mashed potatoes.
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How Thanksgiving is Celebrated in Vietnam: Têt-Trung-Thu Festival
Celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle (between the end of September and early October, and always during the full moon), Vietnam’s Têt-Trung-Thu is a time to give thanks and celebrate the end of harvest. According to folklore, parents used to be so busy working in the fields in the months leading up to harvest, they worried their children felt neglected. The festival was a way to show children they were loved and appreciated, complete with a candlelit procession at dawn in their honour.
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How Thanksgiving is Celebrated in Germany, Austria and Switzerland: Erntedankfest
The holiday celebrated in early October in German-speaking countries may not exactly qualify as “Thanksgiving,” but the idea is similar. Erntedankfest, or “harvest festival of thanks,” is primarily celebrated at rural churches across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The all-day affair begins with a procession and the presentation of the Erntekrone (harvest crown) in the morning, followed by musical performances, dancing, food, and an evening church service. It typically culminates in a lantern parade and fireworks.