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Thanksgiving, Not Only an American Holiday


November 22, 2017

Each year on the fourth Thursday of November Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. It's a day to gather with family and friends, eat turkey and pumpkin pie and give thanks for our blessings. The history of this holiday dates to 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, during the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

Although we think of Thanksgiving as being exclusive to the United States there are several other countries that celebrate feasts of harvest and thanks. Some are completely unrelated to the U.S. holiday, and others are versions of the American tradition. Many are even held on or near the fourth Thursday in November.

Every year, on November 23, Japan celebrates Kinrō Kansha no Hi. 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.

In Germany Erntedankfest is essentially a harvest festival that gives thanks for a good year and good fortune. In cities churches hold festivities that include a procession where people wear Erntekrone, a harvest crown made of grain, flowers, and fruit. In rural areas, the harvest aspect might be taken more literally. 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.

Although it shares no origin with America's Thanksgiving, Grenada's 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.

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." Arising from the same European origins of harvest festivals that led to the United States's version, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and corn are common the weekend before. Vacations and parades are also traditional.

Founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from the U.S. a variation on America's Thanksgiving can be found in the West African nation of Liberia. 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.

This Thanksgiving I join with people all over America to reflect on what I am thankful for. My family is first on my list. I've been very blessed with a wonderful, supportive husband, 5 children and 6 grandchildren. I'm grateful for the fact that I live in the best country in the world. One where I am free to express my belief in God and all the rights given to me by the best constitution in the world. And in the most beautiful state in the country with the nicest people.


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