Where It All Began
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress setting the national day of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November.
The celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States changes from history to legend the further we turn the clocks back. It seems, though, that ever since Europeans began settling in North America, their cultural descendants have been setting aside a day to stop and give thanks.
Several countries have holidays called “Thanksgiving.” Saint Lucia celebrates Thanksgiving in October. American Thanksgiving was brought to Liberia, the Philippines, and the Australian territory of Norfolk Island, where it is still celebrated each November. Canada’s festivities celebrate the end of the harvest season.
Thanksgiving in Grenada commemorates a political transition. Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan celebrates labor, production, and giving one another thanks. Thanksgiving is a religious holiday in the Netherlands. Many of the Pilgrims who settled in present-day Massachusetts were from the Dutch city of Leiden. Every year on the morning of the American holiday, the Gothic church in Leiden (the Pieterskerk) holds a special service celebrating the generosity the Pilgrims received there on their way to the “New World.”
Multitudes of countries and cultures have regular celebrations of thankfulness. In Germany, the Harvest Festival Erntedankfest is primarily a religious celebration, but many Bavarian beer festivals (like Oktoberfest) take place at a similar time. Thai Pongal is a harvest thanksgiving festival celebrated in India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. It’s origins date back over 1000 years. The Zulu celebration of Umkhosi Wokweshwama is closed by the dashing of a calabash, signifying that the people may now enjoy the fruits of the harvest. The festival was part of the inspiration for the modern holiday of Kwanzaa.
Giving Thanks At Home
All over the world, people come together in different ways to give thanks. The legendary first American Thanksgiving was about surviving extreme hardship and the generosity of neighbors. For many people experiencing a family transition, that is a familiar story.
This year, if you are struggling because your holiday table looks different, try to remember: there are many ways and many reasons to give thanks. You have an opportunity to start new traditions that are tailor-made for your unique group of friends and family. You can give thanks for and with the people who are helping you move forward.