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International Thanksgiving Traditions

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Intro

On the fourth Thursday in November every year, people gather around their dining room tables for extravagant meals to celebrate Thanksgiving. Society seems to have forgotten about it, skipping over it right after Halloween and celebrating Christmas instead. However, now is time to celebrate it for what it really is. It’s not just a day about food- it has a deeper meaning that echoes not just in the United States’, but across the world.

November is about more than just Thanksgiving. November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it is commonly referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. The first American Indian Day was celebrated in May 1916 in New York. In 1990, more than seven decades later, then-President George H.W. Bush signed a joint Congressional resolution designating November “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations have been issued every year since 1994 to recognize what is now called “American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.” Native American Heritage Month has evolved from its beginnings as a week-long celebration in 1986, when President Reagan proclaimed the week of November 23-30, 1986 as “American Indian Week.” 

November is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories as well as acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to overcome these challenges.

“Tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”

Oxford Dictionary

What is a tradition?

As shown above, tradition is something you learn or create to be passed down through your family. 

People have all different types of traditions.

 

About the United States’ Thanksgiving

The United States’ tradition of Thanksgiving started in 1621 by the colonists, commonly known as pilgrims, and Wampanoag. It was originally observed as a day of giving thanks for the harvest’s blessings and a day of hope for even better blessings for the next year. It was celebrated by eating food from the harvest and hoping the next year’s harvest would be better. 

Now, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, focusing on food, football and family, while having gratitude for the year’s blessings.

International Traditions of Gratitude: An Intro

Although Thanksgiving is thought of as a holiday in the United States, countries around the world have similar holidays that honor the idea of gratitude . This article goes over only a sample of them.

Barbados' Crop Over-A Tradition of Gratitude

Barbados celebrates Crop Over, a celebration that starts in June and ends on the first Monday in August. It is their traditional harvest festival which includes singing, dancing, climbing a greased pole, feasting, drinking competitions and a calypso music competition. With such a big presence, Crop Over became Barbados’s biggest national festival.

Canada's Jour de l'Action de Grâce-A Thanksgiving Tradition

Canadians celebrate Jour de l’Action de Grâce. This is the Canadian version of the United States’ Thanksgiving. Jour de l’Actionde Grâce is the second Monday in October. Similarly to the United States, people in Canada celebrate the harvest and other blessings of the past year while enjoying food. Canadian Thanksgiving predates the United States’, as it was started in 1578. Canada’s Government formally recognized Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1879, but changed the celebration to the second Monday in October as of 1957.

China's Moon Festival- A Tradition of Gratitude

In China, they celebrate the three-day August Moon Festival, which starts the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Over 1,000 years old, this tradition helps the Chinese reflect on the bounty of the summer harvest, the moon’s fullness and the myth of the immortal moon goddess, Chang’e, who lives on the moon. Mooncakes are given as gifts, symbolizing unity and peace. The festival is considered “Chinese Thanksgiving” because of its spirit of gratitude and abundant food.  A popular food eaten during this time are mooncakes (shown right). 

Germany's Erntedankfest-Tradition of Gratitude

This is a photo of a Erntedankfest feast, courtesy of Thoughtco.

Germans celebrate Erntedankfest, which translates to The Harvest of Thanks, on the first Sunday in October. Erntedankfest is not recognized as an official holiday. Erntedankfest is usually church-organized and includes several activities including parade and carnival with decorations made from harvested fruits and vegetables. During a typical Erntedankfest, people may carry a harvest crown made of grains, or an Erntekrone, fruit and flowers to the church in a ritual walk. They may also eat Masthühnchen(fattened-up chickens)or der Kapaun (castrated roosters) on the way there.

 

Ghana's Homowo- A Tradition of Gratitude

Ghana celebrates Homowo. Homowo is a festival to memorialize the pre-colonial famine that happened there. The festival starts in May during the planting of the crops before the rainy season. Ga people march the streets with drums, paint their faces, sing, and perform traditional dances. 

 
This is a photo of Ghanans marching through the streets to celebrate Homowo, courtesy of Benson Ibeabuchi.

Grenada’s Thanksgiving Traditions

Every October 25, the people of Grenada celebrate Thanksgiving. In Grenada, Thanksgiving marks the anniversary of a Caribbean and U.S. military invasion that took place in 1983 to stop political instability in the country. Today, Grenada’s Thanksgiving features formal ceremonies of remembrance in the cities,as well as time being spent with family and friends, but it largely goes unrecognized. 

India's Pongal Festival-A Tradition of Gratitude

Pongal is a 4-day festival celebrated in India from around January 12th to the 15th(depending on the Tamil solar calendar for that year). This festival marks the beginning of the end of India’s winter season. The second day, Surya Pongal, is the most important day of the festival. During it,people throw their old clothes into a fire, have an oil massage and then wear new clothes. They do this to worship Surya, the sun god. During the festival, cattle are also bathed, dressed and served pongal (rice boiled in milk).Women of the house also perform puja for their brothers’prosperity, and families decorate their floor with decorative patterns using rice flour.

Pongal is a big holiday in some places in India such as Chennai, shown above (Bill Bourne).

Israel's Sukkot- A Tradition of Gratitude

Israel celebrates Sukkot, a biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of Tishrei, between late September and late October. On this day, Jewish people reflect on how the Israelites felt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the exodus from slavery in Egypt. This is a 7-day tradition that includes special prayer services and holiday meals.

Japan's Kinro Kanasha no Hi-A Tradition of Gratitude

Japan’s Thanksgiving, Kinro Kansha no Hi, came from an ancient rice harvest festival. The modern tradition of this day began in 1948 as a celebration of the rights of Japan’s workers. It is now seen as a national holiday. Japan does not partake in feasting like the United States.

Instead, events are held where people are encouraged to celebrate the principles of hard work and community involvement. Children often make thank-you cards for policemen, firefighters or other municipal workers on this day.

South Korea's Chuseok-A Tradition of Gratitude

Chseok is celebrated by offering food to ancestors, such as in this photo by Jens-Olaf Walter.

Chuseok, a three-day harvest festival in South Korea, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon. Koreans perform traditional rituals in their hometowns during the morning to remember their ancestors. It is common for family members to visit and clean up the area around their ancestors’ tombs and offer food, drinks and crops to their lost loved ones. 

Norfolk Island’s Thanksgiving Traditions

Norfolk Island’s Thanksgiving takes place on the last Wednesday of November and dates back to the mid-1890s, when the United States’ trader Isaac Robinson had an United-States-style Thanksgiving to attract visiting American whalers to the celebration. His plan worked, and the island’s people continue to celebrate the holiday today. Different from the United States’ Thanksgiving, people of Norfolk bring fruits, vegetables and corn stalks to church while singing American songs.

Puerto Rico's Thanksgiving Traditions

Puerto Rico adopted many American traditions for their holiday. They celebrate it on the same day and embrace Black Friday shopping on the following day. Puerto Ricans have turkey but roast pork is also common, along with plantains, rice and beans.

The United Kingdom's Harvest Festival-A Tradition of Gratitude

On the Sunday of the Harvest Moon, the United Kingdom’s Harvest Festival celebrates, well, the harvest. People there make corn idols to symbolize the Goddess of the Grain and observe the holiday with a large feast featuring the season’s best produce, such as shown on the right. The Harvest Festival is not recognized as a national holiday, but is highly regarded by its citizens.

Vietnam's Tết Trung Thu Festival-A Tradition of Gratitude

This festival is celebrated with lion dances, such as this one recorded by Dennis Jarvis.

In Vietnam, people celebrate the Tết Trung Thu Festival in September or early October. This is also known as the Children’s Festival. The Vietnamese believe children symbolize innocence and purity. Children light lanterns and perform lion dances as part of the celebration. 

Foods Full of Gratitude

In contrast to popular belief, not everyone eats turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving. In the U.S. it is common for people to enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and so much more.

Our Instagram poll highlighted people’s favorite foods and the most popular were: 

  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Mashed potatoes (my favorite as well)
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Stuffing 
  • Pie

It was also seen that people eat at all different times and there is not a standard of when to eat. In the U.S. dessert is very popular on this day. Mostly, different pies like apple or pumpkin were the most enjoyed desserts, but the poll also showed that people also enjoy cheesecake on this holiday. I also learned that it is popular for people to go around the table and say what they are thankful for before eating. 

That is just our tradition.  Here are a sample of delicious foods that people eat to celebrate holidays full of gratitude: 

  • Turkey meatballs (Thailand)
  • Hasselback potatoes (Sweden)
  • Turkey mole chili (Mexico)
  • Turkey meatloaf with fig gravy (England)
  • Potato gnocchi (Italy)
 

 

Why should I have traditions with my family, friends, and other loved ones?

There are many reasons that a person should have traditions both with their families and other loved ones. My family and I have a strange tradition for Christmas where we flip between A Christmas Story and Elf and recite the lines. I also have a tradition with my friends where we explain why we appreciate each other on Thanksgiving. 

It is fun to have traditions, but they are also great for your overall health.

Mentally, it is healthy because it:

  • Allows for bonding
  • Creates lasting memories
  • Reminds you what matters
  • Creates an emotional bond

  Physically, it is healthy because it:

  • Makes it so people take time for family
  • Give you something to look forward to
  •  Provides consistency

Socially, it is healthy because it:

  • Provides the family with their own identity
  • Teaches and reinforces family values
  • Makes your family unique 

How can I start a Thanksgiving tradition of my own?

Starting a tradition of your own can be hard, especially if you’re like me and like your traditions to be unique. They don’t have to be!

 A tradition is something that should bring you more joy than stress and should be simple. The easiest way to start a tradition is to have the right people to partake in this tradition and then you can go from there. Some ideas to start a tradition can be found below:

  • Create days devoted just for your family
  • Take a yearly family vacation
  • Have a tradition that connects with the past or your ancestors
  • Do something special for the holidays
  • Involve food
 

How can I create traditions that have a positive impact on my community?

If you want to create thoughtful traditions that help your community, we highly recommend creating traditions that help the Turner Syndrome (TS) community. TS is a chromosomal condition that affects 1 out of 2000 females, meaning you probably have someone in your area who has it. It affects people physically, mentally, and socially. To help the doctors, researchers, teachers, and caretakers who aid females with TS overcome their challenges, we recommend that you do things like: 

Takeaway - What You Can Do Now

  • Overall, November is more than Thanksgiving-it is a month full of gratitude, whether that is to American Indian communities, our loved ones, and the good things that happened towards the year. 
  • The United States is not alone in this, as there are many traditions around the world that show gratitude in various ways. 
  • It makes sense, considering that along with the fact it’s fun, having traditions has physical, mental, and social health benefits.
  • If you want to start your own traditions, some ideas include creating traditions surrounding food or something from your past and taking a yearly family vacation.
  • Starting your own tradition is fun. However, if you want to start traditions that positively impact your community, we highly recommend that you create traditions that help the Turner Syndrome community! 
  • The TS community includes the 1 in 2000 women and girls who have the chromosomal condition Turner Syndrome and those who ensure that they overcome their challenges.
  • To help the TS community with your traditions, some include having a yearly fundraiser as well as creating traditions that help advocate for the TS community’s needs and spread TS awareness. 
  • We hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and year full of gratitude!

Written by Shannon Mcgorty, a TSF volunteer blog writer, and edited by Elizabeth Rivera, TSF Blog Content Coordinator, as well as Susan Herman, TSF volunteer lead blog editor.

Sources

Clinical

Non-Clinical

TSF Resources

 © Turner Syndrome Foundation, 2021

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