The American holiday of Thanksgiving traces its roots all the way back to 1621, when colonists held a harvest feast with local natives. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln declared an official Thanksgiving day in late November. In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to move the holiday a few days earlier, but after widespread discontent, eventually consented to make it an official holiday to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of each November.
Over the years, specific traditions and customs associated with the holiday have evolved, from watching afternoon football games to marking the beginning of the holiday shopping season. The basic components of the holiday -- celebrating food and the fall harvest and giving thanks with family -- have remained over time.
These basic elements can be seen in national holidays in other parts of the world. Some of these holidays are feasts of harvest and thanks completely unrelated to the U.S. holiday, and others are versions of the American tradition, albeit with modifications. Many are held on or near the fourth Thursday in November, while others are as early as September. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed nine other countries and territories that celebrate a version of Thanksgiving.
Three countries in particular have Thanksgiving celebrations that are nearly identical with the American custom.
Canada, America’s neighbor to the north, shares many of the same Thanksgiving traditions, both culinary and cultural. Due in part to its proximity, traditions once unique to one country or the other have blended over the centuries.
Similarly, because Liberia was founded by freed American slaves, many American traditions, including Thanksgiving, are also celebrated in the West African nation.
In the 1800s, an American trader brought the feasting tradition to Norfolk Island, located east of Australia, and the tradition has remained.
The remaining countries on this list have a holiday either celebrating the autumn harvest or a celebration of gratitude, or some combination of the two. In Germany, an autumnal celebration known as Erntedankfest, is intended to celebrate the fruits of the fall harvest.
In Grenada, people celebrate and give thanks in formal ceremonies primarily in urban areas.
In China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, the celebration is tied to both giving thanks in some way and celebrating the harvest.
The are the nine countries that celebrate thanksgiving.
The other Thanksgiving Americans are most likely to be familiar with is the Canadian Thanksgiving. Older than the American tradition, the first Canadian Thanksgiving is believed to have been held in 1578. The occasion, drawing inspiration from similar European holidays, was a way for early settlers to appreciate the fruits of a successful harvest.
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Though the Canadian holiday is older than its American counterpart by more than 40 years, it has actually adopted some traditions from the American holiday. Leading up to and during the Revolutionary War, many American colonists loyal to the British Crown moved to Canada and brought some Thanksgiving traditions with them, including the iconic turkey. Today, the menu at a Canadian Thanksgiving celebration involves many of the foods Americans are familiar with, including pumpkin pie, stuffing, and sweet potatoes. Unlike in America, however, Canadian Thanksgiving is held on the second Monday in October and is not a public holiday in every province.
The Chinese celebrate an annual holiday around the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. The celebration, known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, typically falls in late September or early October, when the moon is fullest and brightest. Much like the American Thanksgiving, the festival originated as a holiday to express gratitude for the changing of the seasons and to celebrate the fall harvest.
There are several notable differences between Mid-Autumn Festival and American Thanksgiving. For one, the Chinese holiday is much older. The holiday’s roots can be traced back more than 2,500 years, long before Europeans ever set foot in the new world. Additionally, rather than Thanksgiving staple pumpkin pie, the favorite Chinese dessert is moon cake, a baked concoction filled with sesame seeds, ground lotus seeds, and duck eggs.
The annual harvest festival in Germany, known as Erntedankfest, is typically held on the first Sunday in October. Not a family oriented holiday, Erntedankfest has less in common with the American tradition than harvest celebrations in may other countries. Celebrations throughout Germany, typically put on by Protestant and Catholic churches alike, are marked by parades, fireworks, music, and dancing. Additionally, while turkey is the favorite fowl among Americans, Germans are more likely to celebrate the harvest with chickens, hens, roosters, or geese.
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The origins of Thanksgiving in Grenada, though considerably different from the American holiday's origins, are inextricably tied to the United States. Political turmoil in the island nation of Grenada culminated in a 1983 military coup and, ultimately, the execution of popular Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. The ensuing power vacuum left the country in chaos. Concerned about Cuba exerting communist influence on the country and the welfare of some 800 American medical students enrolled at a university on the island, President Ronald Reagan invaded the island on October 25, 1983. Though the invasion was met with widespread global criticism, many Grenadians were grateful. Having learned of the American tradition, Grenadians put together Thanksgiving feasts for American troops across the country.
Since the invasion, October 25 has been named Thanksgiving Day on the island. The national holiday of gratitude and remembrance is celebrated primarily in more urban areas across Grenada.
On November 23, people in Japan celebrate a holiday similar to both American Thanksgiving and Labor Day. The national holiday, known as Kinrō Kansha no Hi, or Labor Thanksgiving Day, traces its origins back more than 2,000 years to a ritual offering thanks for the season’s first rice harvest.
The widely celebrated modern manifestation of the holiday is oriented around giving thanks for workers rights. Labor Thanksgiving Day officially became a holiday in 1948 and is celebrated in different ways throughout the country. The city of Nagano hosts an annual labor festival and draws attention to matters relating to human rights and the environment. In Tokyo, preschool students make crafts for the city police force. The ancient harvest festival is still celebrated in private by the Imperial Family.
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6. Norfolk Island
A version of the American Thanksgiving has extended as far as the other side of the world, to the remote Norfolk Island, off the eastern coast of Australia. Home to just over 2,000 people, Norfolk Island was a British penal colony for some time and was frequented by whalers and traders from the United States. In the late 1800s, one such trader, American Isaac Robinson, visited the island and held a traditional Thanksgiving at a local church. Robinson died soon thereafter, but the tradition has persisted among locals to this day.
Today, residents celebrate Thanksgiving with a feast that is slightly different from the traditional feast, with pork and chicken and bananas, although there is pumpkin pie. Rather than on the fourth Thursday in November, Norfolk Island celebrates Thanksgiving on the last Wednesday of the month.
7. South Korea
Though South Korea is half a world away, people in the country celebrate a holiday very similar to the American Thanksgiving. The holiday, known as Chuseok Day, is held in the mid to late September, this year falling on the 15th of the month. Koreans typically spend Chuseok Day with their family and give thanks to their ancestors.
Chuseok is also a day for Koreans to celebrate the autumn harvest. Just as in America, this is often done by sharing a meal with family members. Celebrations across the country are marked with traditional national customs, including ancestor memorial services, Korean wrestling, and Korean circle dances.
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Founded by freed American slaves 1847, Liberia’s culture and government is influenced heavily by the United States. The country modelled its founding document after the U.S. constitution, and it practices some of the America’s most iconic cultural traditions, not the least of which is Thanksgiving. In Liberia, Thanksgiving typically involves a church service, after which harvest crops are auctioned off. Families then return home to feast, much like in America.
There are also some minor differences between Thanksgiving in Liberia and the United States. While the American holiday is held on the last Thursday in November, the Liberian Thanksgiving is held on the first Thursday in November. More importantly perhaps are the culinary differences. Because turkeys and pumpkins are hard to come by in Liberia, roast chicken and mashed cassavas usually comprise a traditional Thanksgiving meal in the West African nation.
Similar to China, the Vietnamese equivalent to American Thanksgiving is held on the 15th day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar. According to Vietnamese folklore, the holiday, known as Têt-Trung-Thu Festival or the Children’s Festival, is held as a way for parents, once busy with the harvest, to make amends with their children who may have felt neglected.
While the origins of the holiday vary considerably from the American tradition, many of the fundamentals are the same. The Vietnamese use the holiday to give thanks and celebrate with family.