Words by Shannon Bowes-Cavanagh / Image by Ricky Singh
The festival of Thanksgiving is commonly associated with a US holiday. It dates back to the first thanksgiving where the pilgrims and the Native Americans gathered together to enjoy a meal of all the crops they had grown the previous spring. It is a holiday celebrated by friends and family with lots and lots of food. Pumpkin pies, cranberry sauce, and corn are all staples of an American thanksgiving dinner. Also, the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade dates back to 1924 and is an ongoing Thanksgiving Day tradition, as well as the Cowboys football game that lights up the television screen of many US households. Regardless of these traditions, Thanksgiving is a time of year where people can gather together and celebrate the good things in life, so with this in mind, it may not be surprising that lots of other countries participate in this celebration.
Brazil’s ‘Dia de Acao de Gracas’ is a day in which Brazilians celebrate the harvest with colourful and flamboyant carnivals and, again, lots and lots of food. The story goes that in 1949 the president of Brazil, Gaspar Dutra, visited America and fell in love with the holiday. From then on it was decided that it would be something Brazilians would share in.
Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the US in the 19th Century. With them they bought many American traditions including Thanksgiving to honor their humble beginnings. To celebrate, they fill cornucopias with fruit and take them to church. After the church service these cornucopias are then auctioned off. Throughout history cornucopias have become symbolic of good fortune, prosperity, and natures gifts, so it’s fitting that many countries continue to use them in Thanksgiving celebrations for good luck. Liberians also indulge in a Thanksgiving meal of roast chicken, mashed cassavas and green bean casseroles with friends and family.
China’s Mid- autumn festival or ‘Moon festival’ takes place in October to celebrate the harvest. The Chinese people believe that this is when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Its origin is rooted in many myths, one being the story of a man called Hou Yi, who lived in a time where there were ten suns in the sky. However, the amount of suns caused many deaths, so in an attempt to save lives, he shot down nine of the suns. He was rewarded with an elixir from the Queen of Heaven to keep him immortal but he wanted to stay with his wife, Chang’e. One day a student of Hou Yi tried to steal the elixir and so Chang’e drank it and floated to the moon. Therefore, on the day of the moon festival, the Chinese people worship the moon with gifts. Lanterns are released into the sky to light the way to a good future and in Hong Kong they celebrate with fire dragon dances. Of course, it is not a Thanksgiving celebration without a meal with family and a typical staple of a Mid- autumn festival is moon cakes, which have a salted egg yolk in the middle to symbolize the full moon.
Norfolk Island is the only Australian island to celebrate thanksgiving, following the theme of harvest and agricultural independence (even though it’s their springtime). One year, Isaac Robinson, the American consul and resident of Norfolk Island, decided to honour thanksgiving by decorating the pews of the church with palm leaves and lemons. Now, the holiday is celebrated on the last Wednesday of November, and at All Saints Church, the pews are decorated with tall stalks of corn. Church attendees place fruit and vegetables along the aisles to celebrate the harvest and after the service these are sold as a church fundraiser. Their Thanksgiving meal consists of pumpkin pies, as well as various banana dishes, cornbread, coconut bread, salads, and fish.
In German speaking countries, “Erntedankfest” is the Thanksgiving celebration for the harvest. It is usually in late September- early October depending on the region and is celebrated mainly in Churches rather than within individual families. The celebration is more religious than other countries, but they also praise mother nature. The churches are usually decorated with fruits, vegetables and autumnal flowers, some of which are donated by schools whose students bring in. Community events on this day include colourful parades, food, music, dancing, and the crowning of a local harvest queen. Even though Ertendankfest is celebrated more in the community rather than individual homes, families still gather for meals with Turkey or Goose and it is not uncommon to see a sky full of fireworks.
Even though all these countries have their own interpretation of the holiday and their own ways of celebrating, there are some things they all have in common. Thanksgiving in all of these contexts is about being grateful. Whether it is for harvest or for friends and family or for the people that came before, there is a strong sense of being thankful for the sacrifices that led to where they are now. Whether it’s parades, fireworks or lanterns, people celebrate all the good things in life and how joyous it can be, especially after a bad year. Finally, it is a reason to meet up with friends and family and, in every country’s traditional fashion, enjoy copious amounts of food.