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Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

How 7 Other Nations Celebrate Thanksgiving

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Thanksgiving seems like a holiday that's as American as apple pie, or pumpkin pie for that matter. But actually, there are variants of this day all around the world. Their meanings, dates and customs may vary, but they all revolve around the concept of gratitude.

1. GERMANY

A religious holiday that often takes place on the first Sunday of October, Erntedankfest is essentially a harvest festival that gives thanks for a good year and good fortune. In rural areas, the harvest aspect might be taken more literally, but churches in cities also hold festivities. This might include a procession where one wears Erntekrone, a harvest crown made of grain, flowers, and fruit. Although turkeys are making inroads, fattened up chickens (die Masthühnchen), hens (die Poularde), castrated roosters (der Kapaun), and geese (die Gans) are favored for the feast.

2. JAPAN

Kinrō Kansha no Hi is a national public holiday that Japan celebrates every November 23. Derived from ancient harvest festival rituals named Niinamesai, its modern meaning is more tied to a celebration of hard work and community involvement, hence its translation: Labor Thanksgiving Day. While Niinamesai's traditions reach back thousands of years, Kinrō Kansha no Hi was created officially in 1948. It was intended to celebrate the rights of workers in post-World War II Japan. Today it is celebrated with labor organization-led festivities, and children creating crafts and gifts for local police officers.

3. CANADA

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Arising from the same European origins of harvest festivals that led to the United States's version, Canadian Thanksgiving—or, to its French-speaking citizens, l'Action de grâce—was first celebrated in 1578, when English explorer Martin Frobisher gave thanks for his fleet's safe travels in present-day Nunavut. Parliament made it a national holiday in 1879. But in 1957, Parliament moved it from November 6, declaring, "A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed—to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October." Feasting on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and corn are common the weekend before. Vacations and parades are also traditional.

4. GRENADA

The West Indian island's version of Thanksgiving shares no origin with America's, and yet would not exist without the United States. Held on October 25 every year, Grenada's Thanksgiving marks the anniversary of the 1983 U.S. military invasion to restore order after the death of communist leader Maurice Bishop. American soldiers who were stationed in the country the following month told locals about their upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, its signature feast, and its intention to focus on gratitude. To show their own gratitude, the people of Grenada worked in secret to surprise the soldiers with meals like those they longed for, complete with turkey and all the fixings. Today, it's celebrated in formal ceremonies of remembrance.

5. LIBERIA

A variation on America's Thanksgiving can be found in the West African nation of Liberia, which was founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from the U.S. Mainly celebrated by Christians, Liberians take the concept of the cornucopia and fill their churches with baskets of local fruits like bananas, papayas, mangoes, and pineapples. An auction for these is held after the service, and then families retreat to their homes to feast. Concerts and dancing have evolved as a distinctive part of Liberia's Thanksgiving traditions.

6. THE NETHERLANDS

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For many of the pilgrims, England was just a layover on the way to America. Around 40 percent of the adults on the Mayflower were coming from Leiden in the Netherlands, where they lived and worked from 1609 to 1620. The Dutch have claimed influence on several elements of colonial American life from this contact, including civil marriages, ladder-back chairs, and wood-planked house construction. Some even suggest the pilgrims's Thanksgiving found inspiration in Leiden's annual commemoration of the breaking of the Spanish siege of 1574. Regardless, the people of Leiden still celebrate the American settlers who once lived there with a non-denominational church service on the fourth Thursday of November. Afterwards, there's no turkey, but cookies and coffee are offered.

7. NORFOLK ISLAND

Like Grenada, this small and remote Pacific Island that sits between Australia and New Zealand owes its Thanksgiving to contact with the U.S., specifically with its whalers in the mid-1890s. It began when American trader Isaac Robinson proposed decorating the All Saints Church with palm leaves and lemons, hoping to attract whalers to a Thanksgiving service/celebration. Though Robinson passed away before the following Thanksgiving, the tradition caught on. Now on the last Wednesday of November, families bring fruit and vegetables to the church to celebrate, tying cornstalks to pews, and decorating the altar with fresh flowers. Where they would once recollect their offerings afterwards, now these are sold to raise money for the church.

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Yes, You Can Put Your Christmas Decorations Up Now—and Should, According to Psychologists
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We all know at least one of those people who's already placing an angel on top of his or her Christmas tree while everyone else on the block still has paper ghosts stuck to their windows and a rotting pumpkin on the stoop. Maybe it’s your neighbor; maybe it’s you. Jolliness aside, these early decorators tend to get a bad rap. For some people, the holidays provide more stress than splendor, so the sight of that first plastic reindeer on a neighbor's roof isn't exactly a welcome one.

But according to two psychoanalysts, these eager decorators aren’t eccentric—they’re simply happier. Psychoanalyst Steve McKeown told UNILAD:

“Although there could be a number of symptomatic reasons why someone would want to obsessively put up decorations early, most commonly for nostalgic reasons either to relive the magic or to compensate for past neglect.

In a world full of stress and anxiety people like to associate to things that make them happy and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood.

Decorations are simply an anchor or pathway to those old childhood magical emotions of excitement. So putting up those Christmas decorations early extend the excitement!”

Amy Morin, another psychoanalyst, linked Christmas decorations with the pleasures of childhood, telling the site: “The holiday season stirs up a sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia helps link people to their personal past and it helps people understand their identity. For many, putting up Christmas decorations early is a way for them to reconnect with their childhoods.”

She also explained that these nostalgic memories can help remind people of spending the holidays with loved ones who have since passed away. As Morin remarked, “Decorating early may help them feel more connected with that individual.”

And that neighbor of yours who has already been decorated since Halloween? Well, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, homes that have been warmly decorated for the holidays make the residents appear more “friendly and cohesive” compared to non-decorated homes when observed by strangers. Basically, a little wreath can go a long way.

So if you want to hang those stockings before you’ve digested your Thanksgiving dinner, go ahead. You might just find yourself happier for it.

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How Mammoth Poop Gave Us Pumpkin Pie
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When it’s time to express gratitude for the many privileges bestowed upon your family this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to be grateful for mammoth poop. The excrement of this long-extinct species is a big reason why holiday desserts taste so good.

Why? Because, as Smithsonian Insider reports, tens of thousands of years ago, mammoths, elephants, and mastodons had an affinity for wild gourds, the ancestors of squashes and pumpkin. In a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Smithsonian researcher and colleagues found that wild gourds—which were much smaller than our modern-day butternuts—carried a bitter-tasting toxin in their flesh that acted as a deterrent to some animals. While small rodents would avoid eating the gourds, the huge mammals would not. Their taste buds wouldn't pick up the bitter flavor and the toxin had no effect on them. Mammoths would eat the gourds and pass the indigestible seeds out in their feces. The seeds would then be plopped into whatever habitat range the mammoth was roaming in, complete with fertilizer.

When the mammoths went extinct as recently as 4000 years ago, the gourds faced the same fate—until humans began to domesticate the plants, allowing for the rise of pumpkins. But had it not been for the dispersal of the seeds via mammoth crap, the gourd might not have survived long enough to arrive at our dinner tables.

So as you dig into your pumpkin pie this year, be sure to think of the heaping piles of dung that made the delicious treat possible.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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