Thanksgiving- History, Tradition, Food, and Celebrations Around the World

Get to know more about thanksgiving, from history to tradition, food, festival activities, and harvest festival celebrations in other countries.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States and officially commemorated on the last Thursday of November which was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln. From the first thanksgiving in colonial time until now, Thanksgiving has been a day for showing gratitude and appreciation for the prosperity through the year and the hard work of the harvest. This article focuses mainly on the United States Thanksgiving traditions with brief mentions of other similar celebrations in a few countries around the world. 

What is Thanksgiving?

thankful-and-blessed Thanksgiving- History, Tradition, Food, and  Celebrations Around the World
Be thankful and blessed for what we have in life (Kiy Turk/Unsplash)

Thanksgiving lands in autumn is typically a celebration of the harvest in the United States and Canada, usually around October and November. It is a national holiday for the United States and Puerto Rico. It is celebrated on the fourth and last Thursday of November. For Canada, it is celebrated on the second Monday of October. A few countries across the globe have a similar meaning or celebration of thanksgiving, but not all are listed as national holidays. Thanksgiving originated with cultural traditions and linked to religion in regards to being thankful for the harvest. It is sometimes known as harvest festivals in other countries. In North America, it is more connected to the traditions between Pilgrims and Natives. Through time, it has become a celebration to be thankful for the blessing of what we have. 

The History Behind Thanksgiving

Painting-First-Thanksgiving-1621-Pilgrims-and-Natives-Gather-to-Share-Meal.-Arist-Jean-Leon-Gerome-Ferris-1863-1930 Thanksgiving- History, Tradition, Food, and  Celebrations Around the World
Painting – First Thanksgiving 1621, Pilgrims and Natives Gather to Share Meal. Artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1863-1930 (Wikimedia Commons)

Thanksgiving is commonly heard as the celebration of the American Indians also known as Native Americans for their first harvest, a ritual of gratitude for being blessed with food. There are many different versions of the true Thanksgiving stories out there. The commonly known story was that these traditions all came from the basis of a celebration of the harvest. Many cultures dated into the ancient period of Egyptians, Native Americans, Romans, and Greeks were the traditions of a celebration of the harvest to the community and their gods respectively. The true first Thanksgiving has its controversies, but it is known that these shared celebrations of harvest were common and for that the joint celebration of such a festival began and was named “Thanksgiving”.

Traditional Thanksgiving Meals

thanksgiving-turkey-dinner Thanksgiving- History, Tradition, Food, and  Celebrations Around the World
Thanksgiving turkey (Alex Grichenko/

Thanksgiving is usually celebrated in a household among family and friends. Thanksgiving’s feast is probably one of the busiest times of the year besides Christmas to prepare a big meal when getting together. It is known as “Turkey Day” for cooking a meal that includes oven-roasted turkey as the main dish. The turkey is usually stuffed with nuts or flavoring and is carved typically at the table to keep the meat juicy and fresh. It is served along with stuffing, baked potatoes, pumpkin or pecan pie, and cranberry sauce. Along with root vegetables such as carrots, squash, yams, and sweet potatoes. During the meal, family and friends express what they are grateful for in the year, in their life, and then time to finally enjoy the meal. 

Thanksgiving activities during the celebration

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Autumn red trees (Ethan/A World Journal)

Thanksgiving meal is the highlight and main event during any celebration. However, there are activities that are great add-ons for the time together that can be celebrated in person or virtually. 

  1. Turkey Cooking Contest:

Try cooking with different flavoring or stuffings to see who or which cook brings the best turkey and taste.

  1. Saying Grace and Appreciation:

A standard tradition takes from the name itself which is what you are thankful for. Tell them what you appreciate, share the love and support to those around you. 

  1. Craft Gifts and Share:

Be creative in making cute Thanksgiving crafts and share them with people or guests.

  1. Decorate the Home with Autumn Decorations:

Decorate the home with an autumn theme to share the joy of autumn.

  1. Visit Local Farms:

A great time to visit the apple orchards for apple picking and shop for wonderful apples from local orchards. Get a great pumpkin for making a pie or decorating, they are still good even after Halloween.

  1. Play Thanksgiving Trivia:

Time for team games and challenges and make it Thanksgiving-themed!

  1. Spend a Movie Night Together: 

Watch holiday movies together and share your thoughts on them.

  1. Help Out in the Community and Give Back: 

Give a helping hand to anyone in need and brighten up someone’s day with small kind actions. There are many holiday events for helping or volunteering to food shelters or donating to those in need.

  1. Black Friday Shopping in the United States:

The day after Thanksgiving is one of the best times to shop with great deals and save.

  1.  Enjoy the Beauty of Autumn:

Autumn is absolutely beautiful, and take the time to see the color changes in all the leaves. Take your phone or camera and capture the best autumn pictures or go for a nature walk. 

  1. The Wishbone Myth:

It is said that the wishbone of the turkey is lucky. Between two people they pull apart the opposite ends of the wishbone and whoever has the largest side will have their wish come true. Good to try and for some good luck!  

  1. Watch the Turkey Pardon:

Some tune in to watch the special turkey ceremony where the United States President gets to pardon two live turkeys in the White House. Allowing those turkeys to live.

Harvest festival and similar “Thanksgiving” tradition in Other Countries

global-different-nationalities- Thanksgiving- History, Tradition, Food, and  Celebrations Around the World

Many other countries celebrate their own “Thanksgiving” traditions. The few countries below only share a brief example of how the idea of “Harvest” and “Thankfulness” is shared across the world. Many countries have their own celebrations that may not be considered similar, but in their own way are a tradition of custom.

  • Australia celebrates Thanksgiving on its national day,  last Saturday of May, and is not a holiday. 
  • Canada celebrates on the second Monday in October.
  • In the Chinese community, it celebrates the “Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節)” or Moon Festival on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle of the year.
  • Germany celebrates “Erntedankfest” this festival is more for rural religious groups and the festivity changes throughout the country.
  • Granada celebrates on October 25th for the intervention of US soldiers who shared their celebration with the locals and became a tradition.
  • Japan celebrates on November 23rd every year as a combined holiday of “Labor Thanksgiving Day”

Celebrate the harvest and say thank you

Thanksgiving and Harvest Festivals are a time people come together to celebrate the bountiful food that this world has given to us. During this time it is great to share those thanks and appreciations with those closest to you.

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