Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated in Canada and the United States. It was originally celebrated as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. Several other places around the world observe similar celebrations. Although Thanksgiving has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, it has long been celebrated in a secular manner as well.
Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times. The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.
In the English tradition, days of thanksgiving and special thanksgiving religious services became important during the English Reformation in the reign of Henry VIII and in reaction to the large number of religious holidays on the Catholic calendar. Before 1536 there were 95 Church holidays, plus 52 Sundays, when people were required to attend church and forego work and sometimes pay for expensive celebrations. The 1536 reforms reduced the number of Church holidays to 27, but some Puritans wished to completely eliminate all Church holidays, including Christmas and Easter. The holidays were to be replaced by specially called Days of Fasting or Days of Thanksgiving, in response to events that the Puritans viewed as acts of special providence. Unexpected disasters or threats of judgement from on high called for Days of Fasting. Special blessings, viewed as coming from God, called for Days of Thanksgiving. For example, Days of Fasting were called on account of drought in 1611, floods in 1613, and plagues in 1604 and 1622. Days of Thanksgiving were called following the victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 and following the deliverance of Queen Anne in 1705. An unusual annual Day of Thanksgiving began in 1606 following the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and developed into Guy Fawkes Day on November 5.
In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. Pilgrims and Puritans who began emigrating from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. Several days of Thanksgiving were held in early New England history that have been identified as the “First Thanksgiving”, including Pilgrim holidays in Plymouth in 1621 and 1623, and a Puritan holiday in Boston in 1631. According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of Thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden. Now called Oktober Feesten, Leiden’s autumn thanksgiving celebration in 1617 was the occasion for sectarian disturbance that appears to have accelerated the pilgrims’ plans to emigrate to America. Later in Massachusetts, religious thanksgiving services were declared by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford, who planned the colony’s thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.
Thanksgiving proclamations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution. During the revolutionary period, political influences affected the issuance of Thanksgiving proclamations. Various proclamations were made by royal governors, John Hancock, General George Washington, and the Continental Congress, each giving thanks to God for events favorable to their causes. As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”.
In modern times the President of the United States, in addition to issuing a proclamation, will “pardon” a turkey, which spares the bird’s life and ensures that it will spend the duration of its life roaming freely on farmland.
Pumpkin pie is commonly served on and around Thanksgiving in North America.
Thanksgiving (French: l’Action de grâce), occurring on the second Monday in October, is an annual Canadian holiday to give thanks at the close of the harvest season. Although the original act of Parliament references God and the holiday is celebrated in churches, the holiday is mostly celebrated in a secular manner. Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in all provinces in Canada, except for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. While businesses may remain open in these provinces, the holiday is nonetheless recognized and celebrated regardless of its status.
In the West Indian island of Grenada, there is a national holiday known as Thanksgiving Day which is celebrated on October 25. Even though it bears the same name, and is celebrated at roughly the same time as the American and Canadian versions of Thanksgiving, this holiday is unrelated to either of those celebrations. Instead the holiday marks the anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of the island in 1983, in response to the deposition and execution of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.
In the West African country of Liberia, which began in 1820 with the colonization of freed black slaves (Americo-Liberians) from the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday of November.
Many of the Pilgrims who migrated to the Plymouth Plantation had resided in the city of Leiden from 1609–1620, and had recorded their births, marriages and deaths at the Pieterskerk (St. Peter’s church). To commemorate this, a non-denominational Thanksgiving Day service is held each year on the morning of the American Thanksgiving Day in the Pieterskerk, a Gothic church in Leiden, noting the hospitality the Pilgrims received in Leiden on their way to the New World.
Besides this, Thanksgiving is observed by orthodox protestant churches in The Netherlands on the first Wednesday in November (Dankdag). It is is not a public holiday. Those that observe the day either only go to church in the evening or take the day off and go to church in the morning (and occasionally afternoon) too.
Australia (Norfolk Island)
Thanksgiving is not celebrated on mainland Australia. However, on the Australian external territory of Norfolk Island, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the last Wednesday of November, similar to the pre-World War II American observance on the last Thursday of the month. This means the Norfolk Island observance is the day before or six days after the United States’ observance. The holiday was brought to the island by visiting American whaling ships.
The Philippines, while it was an American colony in the first half of the 20th century, celebrated Thanksgiving as a special public holiday on the same day as the Americans. During the Japanese occupation during World War II, both the Americans and Filipinos celebrated Thanksgiving in secret. After Japanese withdrawal in 1945, the tradition continued until 1965. It was revived by President Ferdinand Marcos, but on every September 21, when martial law was imposed in the country. After Marcos’ ouster in 1986, the tradition was no longer continued. Due to the existence of BPO – Business Process Outsourcing since 2001 this tradition continues for the local workers joining their American employers.
The nation of Saint Lucia celebrates Thanksgiving on the first Monday in October.
In Reform Judaism, there is no hindrance to celebrating Thanksgiving, since it is regarded as a secular celebration rather than religious or gentile. In Orthodox Jewry as well, many Rabbis permit or even encourage Thanksgiving celebration.
A food decoration for Erntedankfest, a Christian Thanksgiving harvest festival celebrated in Germany
The Harvest Thanksgiving Festival, Erntedankfest, is a popular German Christian festival in early October. The festival has a significant religious component, and unlike its North American counterpart, it usually does not include large dinners. Many churches get decorated with autumn crops, beautifully arranged in front of the altar. In some places, there are religious processions or parades. Many Bavarian beer festivals, like the Munich Oktoberfest, take place within the vicinity of Erntedankfest.
Labor Thanksgiving Day (勤労感謝の日 Kinrō Kansha no Hi?) is a national holiday in Japan. It takes place annually on November 23. The law establishing the holiday, which was adopted during the American occupation after World War II, cites it as an occasion for commemorating labor and production and giving one another thanks. It has roots in an ancient Shinto harvest ceremony (Niiname-sai (新嘗祭?)).
The Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving does not have an official date in the United Kingdom, however it is traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the harvest moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox. Harvest Thanksgiving in Britain pre-dates Christianity when the Saxons would offer the first sheaf of corn to fertility gods. When the harvest was finally collected, communities would come together for a harvest supper. When Christianity arrived in Britain many traditions remained, and today Harvest Thanksgiving is marked by churches and schools in late September/early October (same as Canada) with singing, praying and decorating with baskets of food and fruit to celebrate a successful harvest and to give thanks. Collections of food are usually held which are then given to local charities which help the homeless and those in need.
Ikore: celebrated by the Yoruba people in Nigeria
Incwala: celebrated by the people of Swaziland
New Yam Festival (Iwa ji): celebrated by the Igbo of Nigeria
Mid-Autumn Festival: China; the eighth full moon according to the lunar calendar
Niiname-sai, Shinjō-sai, Honen Matsuri: Japan
Tết Trung Thu: Vietnam
Akhatrij (Akshaya Tritiya): celebrated in West India, especially the Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa and Konkan regions
Nuakhai (Nuakhai): celebrated in Odisha, to welcome the new rice of the season. According to the Kosali calendar it is observed on panchami tithi (the fifth day) of the lunar fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada or Bhaadra (August–September), the day after the Ganesh Chaturthi festival.
Bhogali Bihu (or Magh Bihu): Assam, marks the end of harvesting season in mid-January
Chavang Kut: celebrated by the Kuki-chin group in North-east India on 1 November
Deepoli Parba: celebrated by the Tuluva people from Karnataka/Kerala, India
Dree Festival: agricultural festival of the Apatanis of Ziro valley in Lower Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh, celebrated from 4 to 7 July
Gudhi Padwa: celebrated by the Marathi people in Maharashtra, Karnataka, India
Holi: Northwest India, especially Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat
JurShital: Mithila (portion of Bihar and Nepal); 13 or 14 April
Kanyarkali: agricultural festival of the Malayalee Moothan, Nair and Tharakan communities of Chittur and Alathur thaluks of Palakkad in Kerala, India
Lohri: North India, especially Punjab
Monti Fest: celebrated on 8 September; celebrates the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; in the Mangalorean Catholic community involves blessing of Novem (new crops)
Nabanna: Bengal region which comprises West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh
Onam and Vishu: agricultural festivals celebrated by Malayali people in Kerala, Chhattisgarh and other places
Pongal: celebrated by the Tamil people in Tamil Nadu, India and other places
Puthari / Huthari: Coorg, Karnataka in south India
Sankranthi or Makar Sankranti: almost all regions of India, including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal; celebrated in January; goes by different names in different states
Traditional New Year: celebration in Sri Lanka coincides with the harvest festival in mid-April
Ugadi: celebrated by Telugu people in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kannadigas in Karnataka, India
Vaisakhi (or Baisakhi: celebrated by Punjabi people in Punjab, other parts of North India and elsewhere; falls on the first day of Vaisakh month (usually mid-April), and marks the Punjabi New Year
Pola or Without Amavasya: Celebrated by the farmers of Maharashtra on the last day of month of Shravan. Bullock worship is performed on this day.
Vasant Panchami: West India, especially Gujarat; celebrated in Nepal, West Bengal, and Bangladesh to invoke wisdom and consciousness; in the Punjab region, it is celebrated as the Basant Festival of kites
Flores de Mayo: Philippines
Gawai Dayak: Sarawak, Malaysia and West Kalimantan, Indonesia
Kaamatan: Sabah in Malaysia
Kadayawan: Davao City, Philippines
Khuado: Zomi, Chin State, Myanmar
Maras Taun: Belitung, Indonesia
Pahiyás: Lucban, Philippines
Hasyl toýy: Turkmenistan: last Sunday in November
Mehregan: Iran, Ancient Persia; 2 October
Sukkot: Jewish harvest festival lasting eight days in the autumn, in which time is spent in tabernacles or booths
Bagach (Багач): Belarus
Bénichon: celebrated (usually by a huge seven-course menu) in Catholic parts of the French-speaking Switzerland; a combined harvest festival, thanksgiving and Rindya (the day when the animals are brought back from the high altitude pastures in the Alps and when all villagers are also therefore back); see fr:Bénichon
Dankdag voor Gewas en Arbeid: Netherlands, every first Wednesday of November; Thanksgiving Day for crop and labor
Dozhynki (ru): Russia
Erntedankfest (Harvest Thanksgiving): Germany and Austria; traditionally on the first Sunday after Michaelmas, this means 30 September or later. At present, protestant and catholic churches recommend the first Sunday in October. Erntedankfest Düsseldorf-Urdenbach
Festa e Grurit (Wheat Festival): used to mark the end of the harvest of wheat in Communist Albania; no longer observed
Freyfaxi (August 1): marks the beginning of the harvest in Norse paganism; historically from Iceland, the celebration consists of blót, horse races, martial sports, and other events, often dedicated to the god Freyr
Guldize: Cornwall, United Kingdom
Harvest festival: United Kingdom
Kekri: an old Finnish feast celebrated at the beginning of November, corresponding to Halloween
Lammas or Lughnasadh: celebration of first harvest/grain harvest in Paganism and Wicca spirituality and by the ancient Celts; 1 August
Mabon (Autumnal Equinox): the second of three recognized harvest sabbats in Paganism and Wicca
Mhellia: Isle of Man
Miķeļdiena: harvest festival in Latvia; 29 September; signals the end of summer (Mikeli)
Oseniny (Осенины): Russia
Pokrov (Intercession of the Theotokos): one of the major religious feasts in Russia and Ukraine; falls during the harvest season; 1 October
Harvest Festival: Poland, first week of September to begin the first week of October
Samhain: the third and final of three recognized harvest sabbats in Paganism and Wicca; celebration of the end of the harvest season and beginning of the Celtic New Year; 31 October
Savior of the Apple Feast Day: Russia, Ukraine; 19 August
Spice wreath / Cununa de spice: Romania; July
Szüreti Fesztivál or Szüreti Napok: literally “harvest festival” or “harvest days”; celebrated in various rural towns of Hungary
Timoleague: annual harvest festival held in August; Tigh Molaige in Irish
Ysolo: festival marking the first day of harvest of eggplants in Tirana, Albania
Crop Over: Barbados
Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia: Argentina