5 global Thanksgiving traditions to shake up your holiday

While we Americans are busy playing football against a giant turkey, people in other countries are celebrating Thanksgiving in their own unique ways. (Photo from Flickr)
While we Americans are busy playing football against a giant turkey, people in other countries are celebrating Thanksgiving in their own unique ways. (Photo from Flickr)

Americans may stuff themselves with the most turkey this Thanksgiving season, but they’re definitely not the only ones giving thanks around the globe. Several other nations celebrate some variation of the holiday, too.

So if you’re fed up with all the conspicuous consumption, or you just want to escape that tired old story about Pilgrims and Indians, take some inspiration from these five nations that do Thanksgiving their own way:

Norfolk Island

Yep, these south Pacific islanders eat pumpkin pie on their Thanksgiving, held on the last Wednesday of November.

If you’re confused, that’s understandable. Hoards of American whalers who worked on the island during the whaling boom in the 1960s brought the tradition with them. It never left.

Now, many locals deem Thanksgiving as one of the most important holidays, says Kristie Wilson, a local who works with Norfolk Island Tourism.

Many locals visit churches, which are filled with produce and island cuisine, to give thanks. Typically, churches auction the food to raise funds.

Church goers tend to sing American hymns like Let the Lower Lights be Burning and In the Sweet Bye and Bye.

People feast on traditional fare including cold pork and chicken, a local mashed banana dish called pihli, and of course, pumpkin pie.

Puerto Rico

Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico. Are you sure you want to go visit your family in Michigan? (Photo from Flickr by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/breezy421/">Breezy Baldwin</a>)
Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico. Are you sure you want to go visit your family in Michigan? (Photo from Flickr by Breezy Baldwin)

This U.S. territory celebrates Thanksgiving with a tropical twist — heavy on the plantain.

Tables boast appetizers including guineitos en escabeche, or boiled bananas with spiced garlic sauce and fried green plantains called tostones. Fried plaintain chips, platanutres, are dipped in garlic and lime.

Locals stuff the turkey with mofongo, or mashed fried plantains with garlic, pork, bacon and olive oil. It’s marinated with orange juice, vinegar, garlic and other spices. Morcilla (blood sasuage), arroz con gandules (slow-cooked rice and peas) and amarillos (fried sweet plantains served with sugar) commonly accompany the turkey.

For dessert, you can expect the colorful tastes of coconut custard, mango preserve and guayaba con queso, a guava and cream cheese treat.

As in the States, the day marks the start of frenzied Christmas shoppers flooding the malls in search of the best deal.

United Kingdom

Brits celebrate Harvest Festival, sometimes known as the Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving, which typically occurs on a Sunday near the Harvest Moon.

The day originated in pagan times, with people offering thanks and feasting in celebration of successful harvests.

Still, residents don’t seem to display much fervor for the holiday.

“We don’t celebrate that at all,” my friend Simon Mapstone from Brighton, U.K. told me. “At my grade school we used to have a harvest festival where everyone brought in cans of food to give to charity, though.”

Other U.K. residents echoed his views. Now, the day typically involves donating food to various charities. It does not include eating yourself into a coma alongside every aunt, step-uncle and third-cousin you never knew you had.

In Thanksgiving-type spirit, some British Christians may also use the day to express gratitude.

Harvest Festival flowers on display at a church in Shrewsbury, U.K. (Photo from Flickr by Marion Haworth)
Harvest Festival flowers on display at a church in Shrewsbury, U.K. (Photo from Flickr by Marion Haworth)

Liberia

On the first Thursday in November, some Liberians frequent places of worship, auction off fresh harvest fruits at church services, dance and attend concerts.

They also “feast and so forth… but not — clearly not on the scale that you do it in the United States,” historian Elwood Dunn told an NPR station.

In the 18th century, freed slaves from the U.S. founded the nation, and they carried the Thanksgiving tradition with them, swapping chicken for turkey and adding plenty of spice to the green bean casserole and mashed cassavas.

The tradition is predominantly celebrated by those with African-American ancestry, who make up a smaller portion of the population.

Now living in relative peace after decades of devastating civil war, Dunn said Liberians have many blessings to count on the day.

Canada

Even though they sport toques and slap “eh” on the end of their sentences, Canadians may not be so different from us, after all.

Although my Canadian boyfriend assumed the holiday was just another thing Canadians ripped off and “slightly amended in an arbitrary way” from us, it turns out Canadians held a day of thanks more than 40 years before us.

Arctic explorer Martin Frobisher first celebrated a version of the holiday in 1578, when his crew gave thanks for making it home after braving the Northwest Passage.

Though the celebratory feast is widely considered the first Thanksgiving on the continent, Native American and First Nations tribes organized harvest festivals long before any European ever did.

Still, Canada’s neighbors to the south brought the turkey. During the American Revolution, loyalists moved to Canada, bringing the harvest celebration with them.

From personal experience I can tell you that the day, aside from being celebrated on the second Monday in October, goes down much the same as in the states. Except there might not be football blaring in the background.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for answering my questions regarding nations celebrating Thanksgiving and their harvests. May we all across the world develop a tolerance through knowledge and understanding. And of course an attitude of gratitude for being alive to give thanks.

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