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Travel Stories Blog

Giving Thanks Around the World

Posted November 23, 2016

Are you ready to sit down with friends and family for a delicious meal of lobster, seal, and swan? If you were part of the original Thanksgiving feast held in 1621, that's what was on the menu! Thanksgiving in the United States today is a celebration of the original feast shared between the Pilgrim settlers and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621, and it was made a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The fourth Thursday each November is a day when we gather and recognize what we are thankful for, surrounded by friends, family, and of course… good food.

Nations such as Germany, Ghana, Japan, and Israel all celebrate a variant of the American Thanksgiving, and the way these unique countries have adapted the holiday to their customs and religions is quite interesting. Here are several examples of other nations giving thanks around the world.


On the first Sunday in October, most German families will get together and celebrate Erntedankfest, which is a harvest festival that gives thanks for good fortune and a good year. Churches in urban areas will hold festivals and gatherings, while those who live in rural areas may celebrate by enjoying a feast after harvest time. Hens, chickens, roosters, and geese are the primary choices, with turkeys coming in a distant second.


Can you believe Canada first celebrated its version of Thanksgiving in 1578? This is when English explorer Martin Frobisher officially gave thanks and expressed gratitude for his nautical fleet's safe travels through Nunavut. The Canadian Parliament confirmed Thanksgiving as an official holiday in 1879, which is now celebrated on the 2nd Monday in October each year. A Canadian Thanksgiving feast is virtually identical to what is enjoyed in the U.S.


The Japanese day of giving thanks is called Kinro Kansha no Hi, and is celebrated every November 23rd. Though it originally celebrated harvest time, it has now evolved to recognize hard work, community involvement, and a sense of national pride. The English translation of the Japanese term for this holiday is "Labor Thanksgiving Day."


Similar in tone to the American Thanksgiving, China's fall celebration is called the "Mid-Autumn Moon Festival," and it represents a time to gather with family and friends and celebrate the end of the harvest season. It is held during the 8th Lunar Month on the 15th day, which roughly translates to sometime in September or October on a standard Gregorian calendar. Americans may love turkey on Thanksgiving, but the Chinese enjoy mooncake - a sweet or savory pastry that has come to symbolize the holiday.


The holiday of Chuseok is an important time for Korean families, as the three-day celebration is reserved for family time, elaborate meals, and time to respect the family's ancestors. After a reverent memorial service, families will gather together and enjoy incredible food and several organized activities like dancing, wrestling, and donning symbolic costumes. A traditional dish served during the holiday is Songpyeon, a small cake made from sticky rice filled with nuts, beans, or other sweet or savory items.


Throughout the coastal region of Ghana, the annual yam harvest celebration is recognized each year to remember one of the worst famines in the Ga people's history. Sometime between May and August, women will dig up the staple crop and retain the finest examples for a festival dinner. The yams and the rest of the food is blessed by local chiefs prior to the start of the feast, which is accompanied by singing, dancing, and ritual drum playing.

Thanksgiving as we know it is a time to reflect on the people and achievements in our lives, and the positive message isn't reserved just for the United States - it is evident around the world.