Giving Thanks Across the Globe

Today, most of us in the United States are preparing for Thanksgiving — a day filled with food, family, friends, and football. And we can’t forget the turkey! It’s not Thanksgiving without a turkey (and stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie).  Thanksgiving is a distinctly American tradition — celebrating the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feast with the Native Americans.  The American President even gets in on the action, and pardons a turkey (or two).

But there are celebrations of thanks that take place around the world, all year long. Here, we’d like to highlight a few other Thanksgiving holidays from other parts of the globe.

Canada (Thanksgiving Day, Jour de l’Action de grâce)

Held on the second Monday in October, Canadian Thanksgiving is a holiday for giving thanks at the end of harvest season.  Thanksgiving Day in Canada is celebrated very similarly to its American counterpart, with food (including turkey), football (the CFL hosts a “Thanksgiving Day Classic” double-header), and parades.

China (Mid-Autumn Festival, 中秋節)

The Mid-Autumn Festival (which is also known as the Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival, August Moon Festival, and Zhongqiu Festival) takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (typically around September/October), and is a celebration of the fall harvest.  Festival traditions include: eating mooncakes; lighting lanterns to be carried, hung, or floated; worshiping deities and lighting incense; and fire-dragon dances.  The Mid-Autumn Festival was named a Chinese Public Holiday in 2008.

Ghana (Yam Festival, Homowo)

The Yam Festival (also called Homowo, or the “To Hoot at Hunger” Festival) is typically held in rural communities in early August at the end of the rainy season. Yams are a common food in Africa, and are one of the first foods to be harvested in the season. During the yam festival, women dig up the yams and carry them home, where a feast is prepared. Yams are, naturally, the central food of the festival. In addition to the feast, traditional activities include singing and mask-wearing.

India (Thai Pongal, தைப்பொங்கல்)

Pongal, the harvest festival celebrated by Tamils in South India and Sri Lanka, takes place on January 14th of every year. It is the only Hindu celebration that follows the solar calendar.  Traditionally, rice is boiled in new clay pots with fresh milk and jaggery; it is considered good luck to watch the milk boil over. Celebrations also include visiting temples to pray and provide offerings to the gods, as well as visiting with family and friends. Pongal is just one day of a 4-day celebration.

Japan (Labor Thanksgiving Day, 勤労感謝の日)

Celebrated on November 23, Labor Thanksgiving Day is a day for Japanese citizens to express gratitude to one another for the work done throughout the year, and for the fruits of those labors. This holiday was traditionally called Niinamesai (Harvest Festival), and celebrated the harvest and year’s hard work. The change was made following World War II, to reflect the changes to the Japanese constitution that included fundamental human rights and the expansion of workers’ rights. Today, Niinamesai is celebrated as a private function of the Imperial Family, while Labor Thanksgiving Day is the public national holiday.

Korea (Chuseok, 추석)

The Korean holiday of Chuseok is a three-day celebration that begins on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar (typically around September/October).  As with many thanksgiving festivals, the Korean holiday celebrates the end of the fall harvest season. During the holiday, Koreans typically gather with family to share food and give thanks to their ancestors for an abundant harvest. Common Chuseok traditions include: ancestral worship and the visiting/cleaning of ancestors’ graves, eating songpyeon(송편), a crescent-shaped rice cake, and traditional folk games.

Nigeria (Yam Festival, Iriji)

Very similar to the Yam Festival in Ghana, the holiday in Nigeria is celebrated in August or September, at the end of the rainy season. Altars are built in honor of ancestors and gods.  The men dig up the yams and prepare an offering, and a large feast is prepared. On the second day of the festival, people participate in traditional activities such as dancing (with masks that reflect aspects of nature), wrestling competitions, and drumming.

Vietnam (Mid-Autumn Festival, Tết Trung Thu)

Similar to the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, and Chuseok in Korea, Tết Trung Thu takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month as a celebration of the fall harvest.  Mooncakes are a popular tradition during the Vietnamese celebration, as are lanterns, telling traditional stories, and lion dances, which are performed by children and professional dance groups, and are thought to bring luck.