Thanksgiving Day is celebrated primarily in Canada and the United States. It's a day to give thanks for the blessings of the previous year as well as the harvest. For Rotarians, Thanksgiving is another opportunity to share with those less fortunate. This sharing could be the cost of a meal, canned goods to a local food bank, or serving a meal in a shelter.
Thanksgiving was traditionally a religious and cultural celebration. Today, many people in Canada and the U.S. regardless of their beliefs or culture celebrate Thanksgiving. In Canada, Thanksgiving is held on the second Monday in October while in the U.S. it is held on the fourth Thursday in November.
In 1578, explorer Martin Frobisher held a Thanksgiving celebration, believed to be the first Canadian Thanksgiving, for surviving his journey from England. Some believe that the first Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada can be traced to French settlers. The settlers, who came to New France in the 1600s with explorer Samuel de Champlain, celebrated successful harvests with large feasts of thanks. They also shared their food with the native people.
When the pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower, the Wampanoag Indians taught them how to cultivate the land. These Indians were invited to the first Thanksgiving that was celebrated for three days, in 1621. Pilgrims and puritans celebrated this feast, prompted by a good harvest.
The first Thanksgiving feast consisted of lobster, chestnuts, onions, leeks, dried fruit, cabbage, carrots, chicken, rabbit, honey and maple syrup, and other items. It wasn't until the 1660s that the harvest feast became an annual affair.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be the national day for Thanksgiving. Turkeys are the only ones not likely to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast today.
Similar holidays exist around the world in other countries and cultures. Held on different days these holidays have different names. Today, many religions have ceremonies to give thanks, especially after harvests.
Other countries that celebrate Thanksgiving include:
- Germany celebrates the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival in early October;
- Grenada celebrates Thanksgiving Day on October 25th;
- Korea celebrates Korean Thanksgiving Day in late September or early October,
- Japan celebrates Labor Thanksgiving on November 23rd;
- Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving on the first Thursday of November; and
- Norfolk Island celebrates Thanksgiving on the last Wednesday of November.