< Back to Seasonal Events

Thanksgiving Celebrations

The first Thanksgiving Day is recognised as having been held in 1621, with a meal of Thanksgiving being shared by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians. For more than two hundred years Thanksgiving was celebrated separately in individual states until, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that a National Thanksgiving Day was to be held every November. The Plymouth colonists left England in September 1620 aboard the “Mayflower”. On leaving Plymouth England there were 102 passengers aboard. After a treacherous journey lasting 66 days, they landed near Cape Cod. After a terrible winter and much hardship and illness many of the pilgrims died, those left were befriended by Native American Indians who taught them how to grow corn and other crops, fish from the rivers, extract maple syrup and which plants to avoid, all things to enable them to live in this new country.

In 1621 the pilgrims first corn harvest was a success and a celebration feast was organised by Governor William Bradford, thus a Thanksgiving feast was born. The second Thanksgiving celebration was held in 1623 and marked the end of a long drought which had threatened that year’s harvest. Governor Bradford called for Thanksgiving to be an annual event in New England settlements. During the American Revolution one or two days of Thanksgiving were held each year and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the Government of the United States of America in thanks for an end to the war of Independence. New York became the first of a few states, who in 1817, adopted an annual Thanksgiving holiday, although these were all held on different dates. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving Day be held on the final Thursday in November and it was to be a day to thank God for his many bountiful blessings.

Today the Thanksgiving celebration is centred on the Thanksgiving meal and the sharing of it with family. The traditional main course is centred around the Thanksgiving turkey. There is, however. a very lucky turkey each year as the President gives a pardon, the relieved turkey is sent off to a farm where he will see his life out happily!!! Other tasty dishes at Thanksgiving will include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

Another part of the holiday celebrations are the parades, New York has the largest and the best-known. Between 2-3 million people come to watch the parade on its way along the 2.5 mile route and many more watch on T.V as the floats, marching bands and entertainers pass by.

Thanksgiving in Canada

The origin of the first Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to the explorer Martin Frobisher who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean. Frobisher’s Thanksgiving celebration was not for harvest but was in thanks for surviving the long journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs. In 1578, on his third and final voyage to these regions, Frobisher held a formal ceremony in Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island (present-day Nunavut) to give thanks to God and in a service ministered by the preacher Robert Wolfall they celebrated Communion — the first-ever service in these regions. Years later, the tradition of a feast would continue as more settlers began to arrive in the Canadian colonies. The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving can also be traced to the French settlers who came to New France with explorer Samuel de Champlain in the early 17th century, who also took to celebrating their successful harvests.

The French settlers in the area typically had feasts at the end of the harvest season and continued throughout the winter season, even sharing their food with the indigenous peoples of the area. Champlain had also proposed for the creation of the Order of Good Cheer in 1606. As many more settlers arrived in Canada, more celebrations of good harvest became common. New immigrants into the country, such as the Irish, Scottish and Germans, would also add their own traditions to the harvest celebrations. Most of the U.S. aspects of Thanksgiving (such as the turkey or what were called Guineafowls originating from Madagascar), were incorporated when United Empire Loyalists began to flee from the United States during the American Revolution and settled in Canada


In Germany, an early October festival is known as Erntedankfest, or the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival. The festival has a significant religious component to it but also, like its North American counterpart, includes large harvest dinners (consisting mostly of autumn crops) and parades. The Bavarian beer festival Oktoberfest generally takes place within the vicinity of Erntedankfest.


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.


Labour Thanksgiving Day 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 labour and production and giving one another thanks. It has roots in an ancient harvest ceremony (Niiname-sai (????)) celebrating hard work.


In the West African country of Liberia, which beginning in 1820, was colonized by free blacks from the United States (most of whom had been formerly enslaved), Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday of November.

The Netherlands

Many of the Pilgrims who migrated to the Plymouth Plantation had resided in the city of Leiden from 1609–1620, many of whom had recorded their birth, marriages and deaths at the Pieterskerk. To commemorate this, a non-denominational Thanksgiving Day service is held each year on the morning of the American Thanksgiving Day in the Pieterskerk, aGothic church in Leiden, to commemorate the hospitality the Pilgrims received in Leiden on their way to the New World.

Norfolk Island

In 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.