Across the United States, Thanksgiving is a day of reflection, gratitude, and food. It’s a time to take stock of your life and good fortune, whether that means going for a crisp autumn hike or sitting down to a turkey feast with your family. Though the traditions of our Thanksgiving are uniquely American, giving thanks is a global practice. Here are some cultures around the world that observe their own customs of appreciation:
Erntedankfest is a religious holiday and harvest festival observed across Germany. Church services include a sermon and choral singing, followed by a thanksgiving procession. During this parade, the harvest queen is crowned with a wreath of grain, flowers, and fruit. The festive country fair-like atmosphere is lively throughout the country, with music and food to mark the occasion. Though American influence has boosted turkey consumption over the years, Erntedankfest is less about feasting and family time and more about celebrating the year’s bounty.
Kinro Kansha no Hi
Derived from ancient harvest festival rituals dating back thousands of years, Kinro Kansha no Hi (“Labor Thanksgiving Day”) is a national celebration of hard work and community engagement. The holiday takes place every November 23rd and features organization-led festivities aimed at promoting peace and spreading awareness of human rights and environmental issues. In certain cities, children make crafts and present them to local police officers.
Often referred to as the “Season of Our Rejoicing,” this seven-day Biblical holiday occurs every year between late September and early October. Throughout the week, Jews reflect on the struggles of Israelites during their 40-year journey through the Sinai Desert after fleeing slavery in Egypt. Many of the festivities take place in foliage-roofed makeshift huts called “sukkah,” modeled after the temporary dwellings the Israelites erected in the desert. Observers eat their meals in these sukkah, as well as offer blessings and prayers to God. In synagogues across the country, observers sing or recite the hallel—a selection from the Book of Psalms.
Held in mid-January, this four-day harvest festival is a time for residents of southern India to give thanks to nature. On the first day, observers honor Lord Indra, ruler of the clouds and provider of rain. Day two is for puja, the ceremonial act of Hindu worship. This involves boiling rice and milk outside in earthenware pots as offerings to the sun god. Day three celebrates the sanctity of cows, who are adorned with flowers, beads, and coins and paraded through the towns. On the final day of the festival, the women of each household wash a turmeric leaf, lay it on the ground, and cover it with Pongal rice to ask for the prosperity of their family and friends.
Before setting sail for America, approximately 40% of the pilgrims aboard the Mayflower spent 11 years living and working in the western Dutch city of Leiden. Seeking freedom from religious persecution, the pilgrims returned to England, gathered supplies, and set off for the New World. Among the aspects of American life on which the Dutch claim influence are ladder-back chairs and wood-planked houses—even the celebration of Thanksgiving itself. Leiden residents honor these American connections by attending a non-denominational service in the restored Pieterskerk Church every Thanksgiving morning.