How Thanksgiving Day is Celebrated in Countries You’d Never Expect

Nikola Budanovic
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Thanksgiving is usually perceived as an all-American holiday throughout the world. Apart from the U.S., the holiday is celebrated for the same reasons in Canada, as the two countries share a mutual history of settling the North American continent.

However, the tradition of honoring the harvest is something to which most cultures on every continent can relate to.

In China, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Japan, similar festivities exist, and often pre-date the American version of the holiday, as they all refer to a successful harvest as the foundation of a prosperous society.

1. Liberia

Liberia Photo by blk24ga CC BY SA 3.0

First off, let’s start with another African country which was founded in the early 19th century upon the return of freed slaves from the United States.

Liberia adopted Thanksgiving Day as a way of paying tribute to the U.S., which was also reflected in naming the capital city of this West African republic Monrovia, to honor James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States.

It is celebrated on the first Thursday of November each year, and apart from minor adjustments regarding food, it pretty much resembles the holiday in the U.S.

2. Brazil

Dia de Ação de Graças typical dinner Photo by Ms Jones CC By 2.0

Known as the “Dia de Ação de Graças,” the Brazilian version of the holiday stems directly from North American culture, as it was allegedly brought to Brazil by an ambassador who served in the U.S. during the 1940s.

The ambassador was apparently so impressed with Thanksgiving Day and the feast which it includes that he proposed to President Gaspar Dutra that Brazil should adopt the holiday, as well as the day on which it is traditionally celebrated.

First thanksgiving

Thus, for a number of Brazilians who tend to nurture this custom, “Dia de Ação de Graças” is observed on the last Thursday of November and celebrated by the whole family with a mandatory lavish dinner.

3. Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island

The small remote island in the Pacific which has been part of Australia since 1914 has a rich history of being a whaling outpost. Reportedly, the harvest festival was brought to the island by the first settlers in the 18th century, but it wasn’t until late 19th century that the American version of the holiday was introduced and adopted by its residents.

According to Norfolk Island resident Tom Lloyd in an interview for National Public Radio, the custom was brought by an American trader named Isaac Robinson, who settled in Norfolk and started practicing Thanksgiving, just as he would in his home country.

Servicemen eating a Thanksgiving dinner

Very soon others followed his example by organizing Thanksgiving dinners and spending time with their families. The capital of Kingston even saw make-shift decorations put on its All Saints Church, with lemons and palm trees serving instead of pumpkins and oak leaves.

4. Philippines

The South-East Asian archipelago of the Philippines has a history of relations with the United States. Thus it comes as no surprise that Thanksgiving has become a custom there as well.

First introduced when the Philippines was a U.S. colony, at the beginning of the 20th century, the holiday stuck with the locals who even celebrated it in a shroud of secrecy during the WWII Japanese occupation.

Manila, Philippines – January 12, 2018: People walking along a crowded street market in Baclaran district. Market vendors sell their goods along the street where many locals go for shopping.

Since the end of WWII, the tradition died out for several decades but it was revived once again in 2001 and continues to be a holiday shared by the Phillipinos and the Americans who are still a big part of the cultural and economic life of the country.

5. Grenada

Grenada (St. Andrews Bay) Photo by dpursoo CC BY SA 3.0

Perhaps the strangest story of how Thanksgiving Day became part of the holiday tradition in a country outside of U.S. is the one related to Grenada. In 1983, the country suffered a violent coup d’etat, after which even the coup leader, Maurice Bishop, was murdered by his rival in a power struggle which led the country into chaos.

While the country was collapsing, the lives of American students at the U.S. medical school St. George’s University based on the island became jeopardized by the coup, prompting a U.S. military intervention which commenced on October 25, 1983.

Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner in the home of Earle Landis in Neffsville, Pennsylvania _1942

The crisis was over quickly, and since it all happened just prior to Thanksgiving Day, the locals decided to celebrate it together with American troops who remained stationed in Grenada. Some of them offered the troops a taste of their domestic cuisine and the custom became an annual celebration which takes place on October 25th each year, in honor of the intervention.

In Africa, harvest festivals are deeply rooted in agrarian societies. For example, the Homowo festival in Ghana invokes tribute to the hardships of the Ga tribe, which endured great famine in the 16th century, thus placing harvest in the very center of their cultural beliefs.

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Although various countries celebrate the holiday which is directly linked to their own folklore and tradition, there is a number of others who had imported Thanksgiving Day by following the example set up by the United States.