What Countries Celebrate Thanksgiving?

The United States? Sure, but you get extra points if you said Japan or Germany.

What Countries Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Due to popular culture, Thanksgiving may seem profoundly American. If you are living in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, you probably have the wrong idea that this is an all-American holiday. And that’s perfectly understandable. Every year, you see at least one movie scene that features a happy family enjoying a bountiful dinner made of stuffed turkey and mashed potatoes. Nevertheless, celebrating gratitude is more universal than you think.

Even some European countries celebrate Thanksgiving. The best example is Germany, which celebrates Erntedankfest (’harvest thanks festival’) on the first Sunday of October. So no, Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. Similar celebrations take place all around the world – from Canada to Japan and even Liberia.

Let’s learn more about these celebrations and discover seven of the most surprising countries that celebrate Thanksgiving (besides the US).

1. Canada

The Canadian version of Thanksgiving is very similar to its American relative. You’ve got the turkey (though some choose ham or chicken instead), the mashed potatoes, the legendary gravy, the corn and the pumpkin pie. Then there’s the name which is also ‘Thanksgiving’ – except for Quebec; there you’d call it ‘Action de Grâce’. Moreover, both Americans and Canadians like to watch football and spend time with family on Thanksgiving. Everything seems familiar. Except for the date, of course. Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October, much earlier than the United States which celebrates it on the fourth Thursday in November.

Yet Canadians and Americans don’t celebrate the same event. While the US celebrates the ‘feast’ shared by Pilgrims and Wampanoags in 1621, Canadian Thanksgiving goes back to 1578 (earlier than the first US celebration), when British explorer Arthur Frobisher and his crew returned from their search of the Northwest Passage. To give thanks for their safe return, they organized a feast.

Other sources trace the Canadian Thanksgiving to the French settlers who came to North America in the 17th century and held feasts to celebrate their successful harvests.

2. Germany, Austria and Switzerland

In Europe, the idea of Thanksgiving generally involves the celebration of the autumn harvests. Largely religious in nature, the celebration occurs around the time of the main harvest – early October in this situation. In German-speaking countries, the event is called Erntedankfest.

Unlike the North American festivities, in rural Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Erntedankfest is a more public celebration with musical performances, dancing, fireworks and – you guessed it: food. In some places, churches are decored with autumn crops and during the day, people participate in religious processions or parades.

3. The Netherlands

Ok, this is not entirely true. Not all Dutch people celebrate Thanksgiving, just this city called Leiden.

The interesting thing is that the Thanksgiving celebration in Leiden has everything to do with the United States celebration. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the well-known Pilgrims that feasted with the Wampanoags in 1621, started as a group of English religious separatists that fled England following king James’ persecution. Before heading to the New World, many of these Pilgrims lived in Leiden for about 11 years, until 1620. The rest is history.

4. Grenada

Although it rhymes with Canada, you should know that Grenada is actually a Caribbean country and its Thanksgiving celebration is one of the youngest in the world. Every year, on the 25th of October, Grenadians commemorate the events that took place in 1983, when Grenada’s deputy prime minister executed the prime minister and seized the power. Only nine days later, the United States military came to the rescue and restored order in a matter of weeks.

As a result, on Thanksgiving, Grenadians give thanks for the American-led invasion that helped them take back their country.

thanksgiving turkey
“Thanksgiving turkey” by Claudio Schwarz©

5. Japan

勤労感謝の日 (’Kinrō Kansha no Hi’) has roots in 新嘗祭 (Niiname-sai), the ancient Shinto rice harvest ceremony and it’s celebrated annually on the 23rd of November. Known today as ‘Labor Thanksgiving Day’, the celebration has lost some of its original meaning and is regarded now as an occasion for commemorating labor and reflecting on issues that impact the community, such as the environment and human rights.

6. Liberia

Formerly a colony of the American Colonization Society, Liberia declared its independence in 1947 and became the first democratic republic in African history.

However, the freed slaves from the United States who returned to the country around 1820, brought something back from the US: the Thanksgiving celebration. By the 1880s, it was declared a national holiday and nowadays, Liberia is probably the only other country in the world that celebrates the American Thanksgiving.

7. United Kingdom

Yes, Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United Kingdom. Similar to the Erntedankfest celebration in German-speaking countries, Thanksgiving in the UK is actually a Harvest Festival held in late September or early October.

During pre-Christian times in Britain, the Saxons would offer the first sheaf of cereals to fertility gods then come together and celebrate the harvest with a supper. Many traditions remained even though Christianity arrived in Britain so the present-day Harvest Festival is celebrated even by churches.

8. Brazil

This is kind of a funny one. Apparently, sometime in the 1940s, Brazilian ambassador Joaquim Nabuco returned home from a trip to the US very enthusiastic about the commemorations he saw in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thanksgiving Day. So he suggested to President Gaspar Dutra to institute the celebration in Brazil as well.

Needless to say, the Brazilian Thanksgiving begins at the church but ends as a carnival in the streets. Nice, isn’t it? Kudos to Mr. Nabuco!


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One comment on “What Countries Celebrate Thanksgiving?

  1. What a lovely article on thanksgiving across different cultures.

    As I am a native French woman, I am not familiar with the concept of Thanksgiving. Indeed, France doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Most French people don’t have a clue of what is Thanksgiving to be honest.
    I believe each country has its own traditions and France celebrates many other special days like :
    – religious celebrations : assomption (15 August), pentecôte (early June) or noël (25 December)
    – historical dates : end of first World War (11 November) and second World War (8 May)

    Though in regard to Thanksgiving, I believe it would be lovely to have such a celebration all across countries.

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