We start with the most obvious celebrant – but don’t expect to know all of their traditions. The original Thanksgiving in 1621 wasn’t so much about over-indulgence as fasting, prayer and thanking the native Wampanoag tribe for teaching the pilgrims how to survive the winter.
We can enjoy the spirit of this first Thanksgiving today by shunning over-consumption. Instead, create small dishes that celebrate the richness and diversity of the harvest. Delicious sides like sautéed green beans with spiced pecans or cardamom-glazed carrots provide the sense of indulgence of the occasion – without the need for big portions.
Thanksgiving history begins with the European harvest festivals that the American pilgrims took with them aboard the Mayflower. Today, these rural harvest festivals are still thriving in Germany, where the Erntedankfest (Harvest Thanks Festival) takes place on the first Sunday of October: and it’s all about enjoying the bounty of the harvest.
The Erntekrone (harvest crown) is central to the occasion. Usually made of newly harvested wheat, these are traditionally awarded to the harvest queen, but larger versions often feature as centrepieces during feasting. They look great alongside brightly coloured harvest wreaths, interwoven with seasonal flowers.
Kinrō Kansha no Hi, Japan
It’s not only Europeans and their American relations who have long-standing traditions of harvest celebration. In fact, Japan’s thanksgiving history is even more ancient. Kinrō Kansha no Hi (Labour Thanksgiving Day), celebrated on 23 November, can be traced as far back as 660 BCE. It began as time of ritual thanks for the harvest reflection on the year’s work, but the labour element gained extra prominence after World War II, when industrial workers’ rights were enshrined in a new constitution.
While it’s not as showy as its European counterparts, the Kinrō Kansha no Hi tradition of celebrating your achievements is well worth incorporating. Invite guests to bring photos they’re proud of, or send you electronic files you can project onto your walls. It will provide a focal point for the thanksgiving, and plenty of interesting anecdotes too.
If discovering which countries celebrate Thanksgiving has whet your cultural appetite, incorporate some of these international ideas into your holiday celebrations to step out of your hosting comfort zone and surprise and delight your guests.