Thanksgiving Day is an annual harvest festival and is celebrated as a national holiday in the United States, Canada, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Liberia. It is a day to Thank God for the blessings of a good harvest and is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and on the second Monday of October in Canada. Similar harvest festivals also occur in the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and other parts of the world.
This day is basically celebrated to thank family, friends and loved ones for their presence and support as well as express gratitude to Mother Nature for the abundance in our life. People organise small gatherings at their homes and have food and drinks together. People invariably attend church services and get together to eat a meal or thanksgiving dinner with their family. The Thanksgiving dinner is the lynchpin of most Thanksgiving celebrations. A typical thanksgiving meal includes turkey, bread, potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie.
Many Americans also take part in a Thanksgiving Day parade. The Thanksgiving Parade from Midtown to Downtown Detroit is one of the largest parades which large balloons, marching bands, and various celebrity guests and is televised on various TV channels. The Mayor of Detroit closes the parade by giving Santa Claus a key to the city.
The history of the first Thanksgiving Day can be traced to the harvest celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 when people gathered to offer thanks for rain after a drought. It was more of a special church service, rather than a feast. In the second half of the 1600s, Thanksgiving became an annual event. However, it was celebrated on different days in different communities and more than once every year till George Washington, the first president of the United States, proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day in 1789.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday for “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”. In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Holidays Act that made Thanksgiving a yearly holiday in Washington D.C. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the day one week earlier. However, the Congress in 1942 declared the fourth Thursday of November as the permanent Thanksgiving Day no longer at the discretion of the President.
All over the world Thanksgiving Day is observed with a lot of enthusiasm and conveys the universal feeling of being thankful to the lord almighty for his continuous grace.
Thanksgiving Day in different parts of the world
United States of America
Americans eat more food on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year. Thanksgiving Day is one of the busiest periods for travel in the USA as most government offices, businesses, schools, universities, and colleges are closed on Thanksgiving Day. It is also a holiday for the New York Stock Exchange and most other financial markets and financial services companies. Thanksgiving is one of the most popular American celebrations known around the world and is usually associated with being thankful and charitable. In America Thanksgiving is regarded as the beginning of the holiday season, leading to Christmas and the New Year.
The Canadian version of Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October since 1879. In January 1957, Vincent Massey the Governor General of Canada proclaimed it as “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed”. Since 1957, Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday of October has been a holiday in Canada.
In Quebec Thanksgiving is called ‘Action de Grace’. Canadian Thanksgiving dates back to 1578 when British explorer Arthur Frobisher and his crew organized a feast to give thanks for their safe return from a journey to find a passage to Asia from Europe. In 1957 the Canadian Parliament proclaimed that Thanksgiving would be observed on the second Monday of October.
In the United Kingdom, the Thanksgiving harvest festival is officially not held on a specific date. It is traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the harvest moon in late September/early October and is an occasion to offer the first bunch of barley, oats, or wheat to fertility gods. People sing, pray and come together for a harvest supper. To thank the almighty for a successful harvest, baskets of food and fruit are given to local charities to help the homeless and needy.
The orthodox Protestant churches in the Netherlands observe the first Wednesday in November as Thanksgiving Day. It is not a public holiday and the focus is less on the food. People either go to church in the evening or take the day off to “celebrate the perseverance and good fortunes of the early American settlers.” The main celebration takes place in Pieterskerk church dedicated to Saint Peter known as the church of the Pilgrim Fathers, where the annual Thanksgiving service is held. Traditional Thanksgiving meals are also available in restaurants across the country.
Erntedankfest, in Germany, is a popular harvest festival celebrated on the first Sunday of October. It is an occasion to thank God for the good harvest by holding church services, playing music and organising parades. Erntedank has been celebrated by both Christian and Protestant Churches for thousands of years and includes church service, a parade and the presentation of a crown to the Harvest Queen. A similar Thanksgiving festival is celebrated by rural communities in Austria, and Switzerland.
The practice of observing Thanksgiving Day in Brazil was instituted by President Gaspar Dutra in 1949, at the behest of Joaquim Nabuco, the Brazilian ambassador to the U.S. who saw the Americans enjoying the day – eating delicious food and decided that Brazil should do the same. He was so enthusiastic about the commemorations he saw in 1909 as the Brazilian ambassador in Washington that he told this to President Dutra who passed a law that ensured that the Thanksgiving celebration would take place on the fourth Thursday of November. Since then this day has become an unofficial holiday throughout Brazil. The Thanksgiving celebrations in Brazil start in the church but end in the streets as a carnival.
Grenada, an island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea– started celebrating Thanksgiving on the 25th of October to mark the anniversary of the U.S. invasion 30 years ago in 1983 after Grenada’s Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard seized power and executed the popular Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Responding to frantic calls for help US President Ronald Reagan sent the United States military and restored order in a matter of weeks as a part of Operation Urgent Fury. Many Grenadians were so grateful for the American help that they put together Thanksgiving feasts for American troops across the country. Since then October 25 is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day on the island and a national holiday in Grenada to commemorate the success of the American intervention that led to the freeing of several political prisoners who were subsequently elected to office.
The Chinese celebrate an annual harvest festival in late September or early October. The celebration typically coincides with the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is the fullest and brightest. The full moon symbolizes a family reunion in Chinese tradition. During the Mid-Autumn Festival which usually lasts over a period of three days unlike the traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, the Chinese bake a moon cake that is filled with sesame seeds, lotus seeds, and duck eggs. The roots of the holiday can be traced back more than 2,500 years. One of the early references to the popular festival in Chinese culture can be traced to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE) when Emperor Xuanzong organized formal celebrations in his Moon Palace, which is how this festival started. The festival today is celebrated by worshipping the moon, lighting paper lanterns, and eating mooncakes.
Every year on November 23, people in Japan celebrate Kinro Kansha no Hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day) which traces its roots to an ancient 2,000-year-old rice harvest festival called Niinamesai offering thanks for the season’s first rice harvest. Labor Thanksgiving Day officially became a holiday in Japan in 1948. It was originally supposed to celebrate the harvest, but over time transformed into a day to thank the workers who made the harvest possible. Even today Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in Japan to thank the workers for their hard work. Instead of big meals or parades, people organise special events to spread awareness about human rights and environment-related issues. In Tokyo, children write notes to thank the police, firefighters, and municipal workers for keeping them safe.
Thanksgiving is known as Chuseok Day and is celebrated as a holiday by the people in South Korea in the month of September every year. The festival traces its origin around 2000 years ago to king Silla of Korea who organised a month-long weaving competition and treated the winning team with food, drinks, and gifts from the losing team. Today Chuseok Day is celebrated on the first day of the full harvest moon. It is an occasion when the Koreans typically express gratitude for the autumn harvest and celebrate the festival with their family and friends. Just like the Americans, people share a meal with family members and take part in ancestor memorial services, Korean wrestling, and Korean circle dances. There are specific foods that are eaten during the festival, such as rice cakes. Families come together a night before to prepare rice cakes which are gifted to family and friends.
The indigenous Kadazan-Dusuns people in Singapore and Malaysia celebrate a harvest festival called Kaamatan that typically lasts for the whole of the month of May culminating on the 30 and 31 of May which is a two-day public holiday. As a part of the celebration, people pay tribute to the goddess Huminodun or Ponompuan, who was sacrificed to save mortals from famine. According to legend, Kaamatan was celebrated to thank God and rice spirits for the bountiful harvest and continuous paddy yield in the next paddy plantation season. Traditionally rice and rice wines are among the main ingredient in the traditional food and drinks served during the festival. Today, Kaamatan is a time for a reunion with family and loved ones. One of the main attractions of the festival includes a beauty pageant called Unduk Ngadau. The festival ends with a Humabot ceremony that includes games, as well as a traditional singing contest called Sugandoi and dance performances called Sumazau. Popular drinks during the festival include tapai and Kinomol which are drunk from a bamboo vessel or special glasses called singgarung made from bamboo.
In Vietnam, the locals celebrate the Thanksgiving festival known as Têt-Trung-Thu or the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. The history of the Tet Trung Thu Festival — one of the two most popular festivals in Vietnam dates back as far as 15-20,000 years back in Southeast Asia. Historians believe that the Chinese introduced this festival in Vietnam when they colonized it thousands of years ago. Since then it is held every year under the full moon, which is symbolic of fullness and prosperity in life. According to folklore, it is an occasion for Vietnamese parents to make amends and spend time with their children who may have been neglected due to their busy schedules during the harvest. The Vietnamese people use the holiday to give thanks and celebrate with their families.
They say there are four official seasons in the Caribbean: cricket, carnival, crop over and Christmas! The Crop Over summer festival at the end of the sugarcane harvest season is the most popular fiesta in Barbados with prolonged festivities with parades, parties and live music which go on from six weeks to three months. This 300-year-old tradition dates back to the 1780s when Barbados started sugarcane plantations and soon became the world’s largest producer of sugar. It is even today an occasion to celebrate another successful sugar cane harvest. The celebrations include singing, dancing, drinking, feasting, and a competition to climb up a greased pole. The festival begins with the Opening Gala and the crowning of the most productive male and female cane cutters of the season as the King and Queen of the Festival. Crop Over is the most culturally significant festival in Barbados. It is a celebration of Barbados’ heritage, culture, music, dance, food and art, which attracts over 100k people to Barbados from all over the world.
Thanksgiving in Liberia is an annual event to thank God for His blessings and mercy. It usually takes place on the first Thursday of November. It traces its origin to the American Civil War in the 18th century when about 15,000 black Americans and around 4,000 Caribbean Africans relocate from America to settle down in Liberia. These settlers known as Americo-Liberians brought with them many cultural traditions from across the Atlantic Ocean, including Thanksgiving. Since then the Afro-Americans of Liberia, have continued to observe Thanksgiving Day for praying to God and being thankful for his blessings. On this day most Liberians attend a church service followed by a meal with family. There is no concept of eating Turkey or Pumpkin as a Thanksgiving food in Liberia, where people typically eat rice, yams, and cassava while children may go for pizza and popcorn.
The Homowo Festival is one of the largest festivals in Africa. Homowo literally means “hooting at hunger” in the Ga language. The Homowo festival typically starts when the seeds are sown, and stretches over three months from May until August when the harvest is reaped and the ‘Thanksgiving’ feast is shared. The history of the festival dates back to the 16th century when the Ga people suffered a terrible famine during their travels across Africa and virtually had no food to eat due to the famine and the soil too was not fertile. They waited for the famine to end and rejoiced when the rains changed their life. They celebrated their first harvest in Ghana with a feast. This grew into a tradition known as the Homowo Festival which has traditional dances, singing, and parades.
The Homowo is typically a festival of food and goes on for about 3 months from May to August— and sometimes even as late as September. The actual Homowo harvest feast is always on a Saturday, but its exact date varies from year to year. The food served throughout the festival includes palm nut fish soup, yams, and a corn powder dish. Even today during the festival people in Ghana observe a self-imposed noise ban and stop fishing in the lagoons for a month because of a belief that the noise may affect their crops and scare away the spirits of their ancestors.
The Umuganura Day literally meaning “first-fruits festival” is celebrated on the first Friday of August every year in Rwanda which is one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in Africa. Also known as Thanksgiving Day or National Harvest Day, it marks the beginning of the harvest season. Peculiarly even though it is called harvest festival, it is celebrated before the harvest. The festival is celebrated for a week leading to Umuganura day. The celebration usually begins in individual families before the community as a whole comes together for a wider celebration. In Rwandan culture, people do not eat the fruits of the new harvest before offering them to their elders. Hence the day is meant to thank God and the ancestors for all good things in one’s life. Umuganura became a public holiday in Rwanda only in 2011. On this day people gather to share food- essentially beans, sorghum paste with pumpkins, sorghum beer, fermented milk, and banana beer. Family and friends share the harvest with each other, a tradition that dated back over a thousand years.
In Saint Lucia a small island country in the Caribbean which became fully independent from the United Kingdom in 1979, people celebrate Thanksgiving on the first Monday in October. In the Eastern Caribbean, October also means the end of the Hurricane season, which is at its peak in August and September. Most islanders simply enjoy the extended weekend, spending time with their family and friends. Hence it is another reason to clink glasses, play music and eat lots of food.
Though Thanksgiving Day is not common in India, almost every state in India celebrates its harvest festival at different times of the year due to differences in climate and crops. Bihu, Pongal, Makara Sankranti, Lohri, Baisakhi, Wangala, or Gudi Padwa –the names may vary but the meaning is the same to be thankful for a plentiful harvest. In North India, Makar Sankranti is the oldest and the most popular harvest festival in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Himachal, West Bengal, and Punjab. People celebrate the harvest of new crops by offering them to a specially lit bonfire, as well as singing, dancing, and fly kites.
In south India, many people celebrate Pongal a four-day festival to thank God for the harvest of rice, turmeric, and sugarcane crops. People thank the Sun god, nature, and every animal who supports agriculture by hosting a four-day festival. It occurs during the Tamil month Thai, which usually falls in January, but can vary since it’s based on the solar calendar. The Tamil culture regards it as a symbol of prosperity, abundance and affluence. During the harvest festival, people share meals, dance, and pray.
Pongal is an important Hindu festival that is celebrated differently on each of the four days. The first day is celebrated as the Bhogi festival, to honour Lord Indra, the god of rain. On this day, people toss unused or unwanted belongings in a large fire to signify the disposal of old habits and attachments to material goods. On the second day, a dish made with sweet rice, turmeric, and milk, also called Pongal, is prepared. Additionally, a traditional form of drawing called Kolam is done outside of entryways in order to bring good luck and success to each home. On the third day, Mattu Pongal is celebrated to honour the cows. The townspeople will decorate village cattle with floral garlands and bells. Finally, on the last day, Kaanum Pongal, the leftover Pongal (the dish) from the second day of the festivities, is placed on a clean turmeric leaf by women who pray for their brothers’ prosperity.
It is celebrated by the Christian population, mainly in Goa where it is popularly known as ‘ladainha’ or ‘ladin’– literally meaning litany or prayer to the virgin Mary. This festival is mainly celebrated to be thankful for the grace of god. People start preparing for the celebration by purchasing candles, cakes, wine, wheat, and gram. They organise a small party in which guests are served food and drinks. Many people also organise music and dance or travel to different places with family to have fun.