A few years ago an American friend asked me, “What do they call Thanksgiving in England?” I looked at him a little surprised and said “Thursday,” and then went on to give him a lecture on Thanksgiving and the fact that it was a totally American holiday. Well I stand corrected. Other countries around the globe do have Thanksgiving – the dates, customs and meanings are different, but ultimately the concept is the same, gratitude.
In Japan, Kinrō Kansha no Hi was officially created in 1948 to celebrate the rights of workers in post World War II Japan. It happens every year on November 23rd but its roots date back thousands of years to an ancient harvest festival ritual, Niinamesai. Children create gifts and crafts for local police officers, and it is a celebration of community spirit and hard work.
In Germany, Erntedankfest, a religious holiday normally on the first Sunday in October, is a harvest festival giving thanks for good fortune and a good year. They normally have chickens or geese for the meal. In German cities, churches have festivities which include a procession where people wear Erntekrone, a crown made of flowers, fruit and grain. In the countryside the harvest trend is more literal.
In Canada, l’Action de grâce, as it is called by French Canadians first observed in 1578, when the English explorer Martin Frobisher (could you get a more English name?) was thankful for his fleet’s safe sailings in Nunavut. The Canadian parliament made it a national holiday in 1879, then in 1957 moved it to the second Monday in October declaring “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” A celebratory dinner similar in ingredients and preparation to America’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner is common during the preceding weekend, along with parades and a day off, which everyone is always thankful for.
In Grenada, Thanksgiving is held annually on October 25th. It is a remembrance celebration to mark the anniversary of the 1983 US military invasion to restore order on the island after the death of communist leader Maurice Bishop. The US soldiers stationed there in the following month told the islanders about Thanksgiving, the meal and its intention of gratitude, so the Grenadians, in secret, made the meal, turkey and all the fixings, to surprise their rescuers.
In Liberia, Thanksgiving was started in the 19th century by slaves freed from the US. It is mainly celebrated by Christians and they fill their churches with baskets of fruit locally produced, such as mangoes, pineapples, papayas and bananas. An auction is held after the service and families then go home to a feast. Dancing and concerts have also become a tradition of this Thanksgiving, which sounds a lot more energized and fun than watching the Detroit Lions play.
About 40 percent of the pilgrims on the Mayflower came from Leiden in the Netherlands, and the Dutch claim influence on a few things about American colonial life, such as the wood-planked house, ladder back chairs, and civil marriages (not meant as an oxymoron, so wipe that smirk off…). On the fourth Thursday of November the people of Leiden hold non-denominational church services to remember the American settlers who came from their town. Afterwards coffee and cookies are had, turkey is not.
On Norfolk Island, a small and somewhat remote island between Australia and New Zealand, their Thanksgiving is a result of contact with US whalers during the mid 1890s. An American trader, Isaac Robinson, had the All Saints Church decorated with lemons and palm leaves in an effort to lure whalers to a Thanksgiving service. The tradition caught on and is now observed on the last Wednesday of November. Nowadays, island families decorate the altar with fresh flowers and the pews with cornstalks and they bring fruit and vegetables which are sold after the service to raise money for the church.
In Korea, Chuseok which means “Autumn eve” is observed between mid-September to the beginning of October, on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, on the full moon (so somewhere in the end of summer – early autumn. I think they email you a password so you can know exactly when it is.) It’s a three-day holiday, celebrated in North and South Korea – Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns to pay respect to their ancestors by visiting their tombs, performing worship in the morning, cleaning and trimming the area around the tombs and offering food, drink and crops to the long departed souls. A good harvest is attributed to blessings from ancestors, all followed by a feast of Korean traditional foods and drink, with games and gift giving.
So, as I said I was wrong years ago. But they still call it Thursday in England.