Thanksgiving Around the World

Thanksgiving celebrations from around this beautiful planet

The year’s biggest feast will soon be upon us. Family traditions are plenty during the holiday season so we started thinking… What are Thanksgiving traditions around the world? Do they even celebrate Thanksgiving? What are we celebrating anyway?

To answer all of these questions, we’ve gathered 10 Thanksgiving celebrations from around the world. We’ll discover new and interesting traditions we might consider incorporating into our own.

An adorable preschooler dressed as a Pilgrim happily carring an armload of fresh corn.

Thanksgiving: American Style

According to every text book in the free world, Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Traditionally, the holiday is a time for reflection and giving thanks for the bounties in our lives.

Today, the day is filled with football, parades, food, family & friends. Families break out their time honored recipes and set the table in their best china. Parents groom their kids and then set them loose to play with cousins until dinner time. And oh boy, that Thanksgiving Dinner is a thing of beauty! Turkey reins supreme, whether baked or fried.

When all is said and done, as a human race we are thankful for our families, our health and our loved ones. This time of year is a reminder to slow down and enjoy each other’s company, to smell the leaves as they crunch underfoot. Have that backyard bonfire and roast those marshmallows. Eat that slice of pumpkin pie and savor the work that went into making it. We have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. Let’s slow down and say thank you.

A beautiful elementary Pilgrim girl holding freshly picked carrots.

China: Mid Autumn Moon Festival

Chinese mooncake served on black table top.

Families gather on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle to celebrate the autumn harvest. The Chinese reunite with family for a large three-day feast featuring mooncakes, sweet cakes filled with sesame seeds, ground lotus seeds, and duck eggs embossed with a baker’s insignia. The mooncake’s center is filled with a salty yolk (an acquired taste) to represent the full moon. Families and friends often exchange them as a sign of unity and peace.

Celebrate at Home: Chinese mooncakes are an extremely hard delicacy to make, in fact many Chinese people buy them from bakeries already prepped. Alternatively, you bake something more familiar, like a cookie or a cake, in the shape of a moon.

Whether you play football with friends & family or start your holiday shopping, the basic components of the holiday -- celebrating food and the fall harvest and giving thanks with family -- have remained over time

Vietnam: Tet Trung Thu Festival

Also celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle, and with mooncakes, Vietnamese people give thanks and celebrate their families during what is also known as the Children’s Festival. Folklore says that during harvest, parents were so busy that this was a way to make amends for leaving them for so long. Parents would shower their children with love and appreciation, and a candlelit procession at dawn with handmade lanterns.

Celebrate at Home: Thanksgiving dinner is undoubtedly the best part of the day, but getting there can be hectic. Make sure you take time to show your little ones how much you appreciate them by doing something together. Make turkeys for the table, prepare a game, or share stories of what Thanksgivings were like when you were growing up.

Toy masks for sale on Hanoi street before Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Festival for children.

South India: Pongal, the Harvest Festival

Today, Pongal is a four-part celebration. The first day, Bhogi Pongal, honors Indra, the king of the gods as well as god of the rain and clouds. Families give offerings to Indra so that their harvest is bountiful. The Sun God, Surya Pongal, is honored on the second day with a special dish called sarkkarai pongal and sugarcane sticks. On the third day, known as Mattu Pongal, cowherds and shepherds pay thanks to their cows and bulls, painting and decorating the animals. On Kaanum Pongal, the final day, people travel to see family members to share their crops and give thanks for a successful harvest.

Celebrate at Home: Celebrate the gods of rain and clouds by making a rainstick with dried rice. Take a paper-towel tube and decorate using anything from stickers to watercolor paints. Once dried, take a square of foil and secure it at one end of the tube with glue or a tightly wound rubber band. Fill with a small handful of rice and seal other end of paper-towel tube. Then listen to the sound of rain.

A rainstick.
Cow with painted horns along a road in rural India.
Sacred Cow
Holy Cow during Pongal in India

United Kingdom: Harvest Festival

Corn husk doll with wool hair and a flower

Long ago Saxon farmers would offer the first cut sheaf of corn and a sacrificial animal to one of their fertility gods to ensure a bountiful harvest. It was thought that the Spirit of the Corn lived in that first cut, and the tradition of making plaited corn dolls to hang in rafters each year began in order to protect the rest of the harvest.

Today, the English still make the corn dolls and still celebrate the harvest with a supper that features the season’s produce. Children also take gifts of fruit and vegetables to churches and schools, which are distributed to the elderly and needy of the community.

Celebrate at Home: Think about the ways you can give back to your community. Spend the morning in a soup kitchen or donate canned goods to a local food drive. There are plenty of ways to fight hunger in America, and what way to better show how grateful you are by giving back to those in need?

Germany: Erntedankfest

The German harvest celebration is observed in September or October. The day begins with a sermon, followed by a procession in which a traditional harvest crown is presented to the harvest queen, Ernteknigin. The day is further celebrated with music, dancing, and a bounty of fruits and vegetables from the harvest. While it’s not a grand day of family get-togethers and feasting like Thanksgiving in America, the unused food is distributed to the needy. There isn’t a turkey, either. Instead, chickens are fattened up in time for the feast. In some places, there is also an evening service followed by a lantern and torch parade, with fireworks for the children.

Celebrate at Home: Swap out that turkey for chicken! OK, for some that may be a cardinal sin, but it’s an option, especially if you’re hosting Thanksgiving for two, or four. Or opt for a hearty soup that also pays tribute to the harvest season, like a hearty pumpkin soup.

Trailer with horses at Thanksgiving Parade in Rosenheim / Germany
Flower Cart of the Urban Community of Rosenheim Small gardener at Thanksgiving Parade in Rosenheim / Germany

Brazil: Day of Thanksgivings

Thanksgiving dinner. Roasted turkey with pumpkins and sunflowers on wooden table

In 1949, what was once a seasonal celebration to express gratitude to the Lord for a good harvest throughout the year, became Dia de Ao de Graas, a day of Thanksgivings, after the ambassador of Brazil was inspired by a visit to the U.S. The celebrations take place on the fourth Thursday of November, yet not all Brazilians partake in the festivities, as it isn’t an official holiday. Like in the U.S., there is a turkey and stuffing and accompanying dishes include mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Just as in the U.S., the most important part of the day is that it is full of food, family, and friends.

Celebrate at Home: Be inspired by the wonders of Brazil and serve up Brazilian favorites alongside your turkey and stuffing.

Ghana: Homowo, or Yam Festival

Yams are one of the most consumed foods in the world & is a staple food in South America, Africa, West Indies & the Pacific Islands.

Baskets of newly harvested yams on sale at an African roadside market
Colorful sweet potatoes in market

In the U.S. yams are essential to a traditional Turkey Day table. They are also a major crop in Ghana, and important enough to get their own festival. To ward against famine and to thank the spirits for a bountiful harvest, Ghanians gather to celebrate the important tuber, which are unearthed to be blessed by the chief. The day begins with a ceremony to honor the deceased as well as twins and triplets in the community. Special yam dishes, like mashed yams with hard-boiled eggs, are prepared along with kpekpele, a mashed cornmeal with palm oil. Dressed in multi-colored togas, Ghanians dance to ceremonial drums and end with a large feast.

Celebrate at Home: Candied yams are a fantastic way to bring Ghana to your American table. Or anything with sweet potatoes, for that matter.

Canada: Canadian Thanksgiving

The first Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1872 in gratitude for King Edward VII’s recovery from a serious illness, but it took until 1957 for Parliament to establish the second Monday in October as the official Thanksgiving Day.

Typically, Canadians eat their Thanksgiving meal on Sunday. Similar to the UK Harvest Festival, they decorate churches with cornucopias. Today, much like its southern neighbor, Canada celebrates its holiday with parades, football, and a big turkey on the table.

Celebrate at Home: Celebrate Canada’s famous leave by collecting colorful leaves to decorate your home, raking a great pile to jump in, or by making something with maple syrup to serve at your holiday table like butternut squash soup with maple foam or a maple hot toddy?

Red and white Canadian theme Thanksgiving Table setting with flag and Roast Turkey Chicken on large platter centerpiece .

Barbados: Crop Over Festival

Barbados kids kadooment, a group of kids dressed in yellow costumes enjoying the carnival.
Barbados kids kadooment, a group of kids dressed in flower costumes enjoying the carnival.

Unlike America’s first Thanksgiving where there was no sugar (it was lost on the ride over on the Mayflower), Barbados’ celebrations are all about sugarcane. The Crop Over tradition began in 1688, and it begins with a ceremonial delivery of the last canes, followed by the presentation of harvest crowns to the man and woman who produced the most sugarcane. Partygoers enjoy fish cakes and barbecued chicken from nearby stands, and

challenge others to climb greased poles or partake in feasting and drinking competitions. The event culminates with the Grand Kadooment a parade with mummer-esque bands dressed in elaborate costumes depicting various themes.

Make it Your Own: Bring a bit of Barbados’ prize crop to your table by decorating with sugarcane.

Malaysia: Kadazan Harvest Celebration

Group of young girls in traditional costumes during the State Harvest Festival Celebration Malaysia.

What is just a side dish in the U.S., is a point of celebration in Sabah, Malaysia: Rice. This religious holiday is observed in May, after a season in the rice patties, to honor the rice god, Semangat, to offer gratitude for the good harvest.

Carnivals are an important part of the celebration, as are cultural programs, agricultural shows, buffalo races, and traditional games.Homemade rice wine is distributed among locals dressed in traditional costumes.

Celebrate at Home: There are of course numerous rice dishes you could make to bring this Malaysian tradition to your home. But for an interesting twist, you could introduce your loved ones to the rice wines, like sake, that are so popular at the festivals.

How to say Thank You in 23 languages:

Arabic
شُكْراً.‏   (shukran.)

Chinese (Mandarin)
谢谢。 (xièxie.)

Croatian
Hvala.     

Czech
Děkuji.  

Dutch
Dankjewel.   

French
Merci.

German
Danke.

Greek
Ευχαριστώ. (ef-khah-ree-STO.)

Hebrew
תוֹדָה.‏ (toda.)

Hindi
धन्यवाद। (dhanyavād.)

Hungarian
Köszönöm.

Italian
Grazie.

Japanese
ありがとうございます. (arigatoo gozaimasu.)

Korean
감사합니다.  (gamsahamnida.)

Portuguese
Obrigado/Obrigada. (spoken by m/f)

Polish
Dziękuję.  

Russian
Спасибо. (spah-SEE-bah.)

Spanish
Gracias.

Swahili
Asante.

Swedish
Tack.     

Tagalog
Salamat. 

Turkish
Teşekkür ederim.          

Vietnamese
Cám ơn bạn. 

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