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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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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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holidays
10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

woman ready to clean a home
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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

Young Asian couple smiling
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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

Bowl of cherries
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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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