Thanksgiving Around the World: A Global Perspective on Harvest and Gratitude

Today we’re talking turkey! Not exclusively, of course, but the very vocal bird native to North America has certainly become a symbol instantly associated with the Thanksgiving holidays. For that reason, you can expect turkeys to gobble up at least a few moments in today’s post. But even more than that, we will be looking at how Thanksgiving is observed, or sometime not, all over this big planet of ours. We invite you to join us for Thanksgiving Around the World: A Global Perspective on Harvest and Gratitude.

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

Before we get into our geographical breakdown of Thanksgiving observance, it might be helpful to lay out a base line on the holiday. Here is a short primer to bring things up to speed, using the United States as a fulcrum for all the facts:

1. When Is It? Thanksgiving occurs on the 4th Thursday of every November. In 2023, it falls on November 23.

2. When Was the First Thanksgiving? The most accepted belief, according to many historians, is that the first Thanksgiving happened in Plymouth Massachusetts in the year 1621. The settlers of that plantation – often called Pilgrims – enjoyed a 3-day feast to mark the success of their pre-winter harvest, enjoyed alongside members of the Wampanoag tribe, who pre-dated the Pilgrims settlement in the area. This is perhaps the way you remember it from school. However, some Florida historians claim the first Thanksgiving happened 50 years earlier. documents the arrival of Spanish Admiral Don Pedro Menedez de Aviles and 800 hungry colonists to the new land of St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. According to the legend, a huge communal feast held with the local tribe of Timucuans to celebrate the new settlers safe landing and crop prospects for the future.

3. When Did Thanksgiving Become an Official Holiday? The short answer is 1863, but the long answer can be a little confusing. Our first United States President, George Washington, proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving on November 26, 1789. Just so happens it fell on a Thursday. However, the date was never made “official” until Abraham Lincoln made it so by declaring Thanksgiving would be held annually on the last Thursday in November. That was 1863.

In 1939 there was another subtle change. President Franklin D. Roosevelt mistakenly signed a bill into law changing the date of Thanksgiving to November 23. This caused many to be upset, and some Americans even refused to acknowledge the change. Roosevelt stuck to his guns, maintaining his error for the next few years. Finally, in 1941 the President admitted his mistake and signed a new bill into law making Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. Not the most straightforward history but that’s how we got here. So how do we celebrate Thanksgiving today? Let’s look at a few of our favorite rituals and traditions.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States

From exciting football games to big dinners with family, from hectic travel and frenzied shopping to expressions of gratitude and annual parades with thousands in attendance, the things we love about Thanksgiving are as varied as they are important to the holiday. We are sure you have a few of your favorites already in mind and have lots of plans for November 23. We would love to hear about some of them in the comments below. In the meantime, here are a few of the tried-and-true Thanksgiving traditions you might already be familiar with:

Gratitude – since this is the virtue on which the holiday was founded, it is very common for individuals and families to set aside time to share the things they are most thankful for in the present year. Especially around the dinner table.

Travel – the Thanksgiving holiday, particularly the days leading up to it, is considered by many to be the busiest travel time of the entire year. Do you have travel plans this year?

Shopping – the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday by the retail world. The reason it’s referred to this way is because, historically, it is the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season and the day that retail sales go from the red to the black. But The Bradford Exchange suggests you start your Christmas shopping even earlier than Black Friday. Right now would be a great time, in fact, if you haven’t started already. After all, that’s when the best selection of Christmas gifts is still available.

Football – do you have an NFL team or college team you always cheer for? Some of the biggest and most anticipated games of the season happen around Thanksgiving, which makes it an awesome holiday for sports fans. And after a big meal, there’s no better way to spend the rest of the day then lounging on the couch with the game going on the big screen. Which matchups are you most? Don’t forget that offer winning sports collectibles to help get you in the mood, including both pro and college teams.

Parades – watching the Macy’s Day Parade on TV is a Thanksgiving morning ritual that many of us grew up with and still watch fondly. The first one occurred in 1924, so this annual New York City celebration is coming up on its 100-year birthday. That’s a whole lot of floats and marching bands that have passed through over the years. Plus, many other U.S. cities regularly host Thanksgiving Day parades as well. Do you have one in your town?

The Feast – probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving is the big meal. It’s one that people look forward to all year. It’s also one that some people plan all year. Many families enjoy the traditional favorites: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, but menus have certainly expanded. Today, you can expect to find all kinds of tasty dishes on America’s Thanksgiving table, from ethnic delicacies and experimental delights to vegan and vegetarian options and even takeout. Most Thanksgiving meal traditions have evolved within individual family units over time and have come to be associated with comfort and connection, regardless of what’s actually on the menu.

Thanksgiving Festivals and Traditions in Other Cultures

The vast diversity of Thanksgiving celebrations in other cultures might surprise you. There are so many ways that countries outside the United States incorporate the theme of thankfulness and gratitude into their festivals, traditions and customs. Here are just a few.

China – besides a meal that is more geographically appropriate, China celebrates Thanksgiving in a similar way as it is in the west, although it is not recognized as an official holiday. This is, in part, due to the large number of Americans and Canadians who have settled there over the years, bringing their traditions with them to the east. It is known as Gan’en Jie, which literally translates to “thanks for grace” and typically revolves around a communal meal hosted by former North Americans who invite their Chinese friends and families over to partake.

Japan – the expression of gratitude in Japan is very specific for Thanksgiving. In fact, the holiday is officially called Labor Thanksgiving Day. It is set aside as a day for people to show their appreciation for people in the labor sector, particularly police officers, firefighters, rescue workers, hospital staff and the military. So, like our Labor Day. The occasion is celebrated on November 23 each year and is named for an ancient Japanese harvest festival called Niiname-sai. Since it’s an official holiday, many have the day off from work as well, so it is typically celebrated by spending time with family.

Canada – from football to feasting, Canada’s Thanksgiving Day is a cornucopia of many things we enjoy here in the states. The big difference: they celebrate more than a month earlier than us. An official holiday since 1879, Thanksgiving is held on the second Monday in October each year for our northern neighbors.

Germany – Erntedank is a Thanksgiving-like religious celebration that takes place in Germany and other countries with German heritage. The name of the celebration literally means “give thanks for the harvest festival” as it is associated with harvest season and centered around giving thanks. Rather than spending time at home with families, much of the traditions surrounding Erntedank encourage families to take to the streets for live music, parades, carnivals, dancing and fireworks. Of course, because it is a religious ceremony, there are also traditional and liturgical services held in both Protestant and Catholic churches.

Gobble Gobble: Thanksgiving Stats to Make You Hungry

We warned you there might be more talking turkey and here we go… Since much focus is made on the feast every year, we thought it would be fun to share a few tasty numbers about how much Americans typically consume over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to a report by Bon appetite!

365 million pounds of turkey

77 million pounds of ham

250 million pounds of potatoes

$96 million on breadcrumbs (for stuffing)

40.5 million rolls

80 million pounds of cranberries

$137 million of frozen vegetables

480,000 pounds of pumpkins

Wow! That’s a pretty big shopping list, don’t you think? Luckily, we’re not shopping for the entire country. How many of these will be on your table come November 23, 2023? We hope today’s post was fun and informative and put you in the mood for turkey day. May you and your family have a very wonderful Thanksgiving this year. Happy (and safe) travels if you are hitting the road. Remember, it’s going to be busy out there.

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