Social Sundays: A Global Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday, or is it?  I put this challenge to my US history students.  We held an intelligence square style debate.  The side that argued against Thanksgiving being an American only holiday came up with some fascinating facts about places around the world that celebrate Thanksgiving.  Here's some of the highlights for your class:

  1. At its core, Thanksgiving is a harvest festival celebrating the bounty of the season.  In Germany, they have a similar harvest festival on the first Sunday of October.  Called Erntedankfest, the German festival has a feast of chickens, hens, roosters and geese.  They host a parade which includes one individual wearing a crown made of flowers, grain and fruit.  On Erntedankfest people give thanks for the good year and hope for good fortune.
  2. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, too.   Similarly to the Americans, Canadians feasts on turkey, stuffing mashed potatoes, and corn during their Thanksgiving.  The Canadian Thanksgiving, called l'action de grace to French-speaking Canadians, marks the thanks given by explorer Martin Frobisher who gave thanks in 1578 for safe travels to Nunavut.
  3. Travel all the way to West Africa to the nation of Liberia, and you will find a Liberian take on America's Thanksgiving.  The tradition began in the 19th century by freed slaves who arrived from the United States.  Today, Christian Liberians fill their churches with a cornucopia of fruit baskets filled with fruits such as bananas, mangoes, and pineapples.  Liberians also host concerts with dancing as part of their Thanksgiving traditions.
  4. Many pilgrims from England spent time in the Netherlands before traveling to the New World.  While in the town of Leiden, many pilgrims learned about civil marriages, ladder-back chairs and wood-planked house construction.  The pilgrims took these ideas to the New World with them.  The Dutch argue that the pilgrims' Thanksgiving was inspired by some of the traditions of Leiden's annual festival.  During Leiden's festival there are parades and a common dish that is served is made of mashed potatoes and carrots.  Today, Leiden still celebrates the American settlers on the fourth Thursday of the month with a non-denominational church service followed by cookies and coffee. 
  5. There are harvest festivals that are not directly connected with the American Thanksgiving tradition around the world.  In the Czech Republic the harvest festival includes actual harvesting in full costume before celebrating the harvest. In Mendoza, Argentina, Argentinians celebrate the grape harvest with parades honoring the grape harvest queen.
This was one of the more successful classes I have had around the Thanksgiving holiday when there are often several absences. Both my students and I learned a tremendous amount and of course, brushed up on our persuasive argument skills.  If you want to go simpler, have students find harvest festivals around the world and create a map that shows the festivals with a short description.  I think you will find that they are surprised.

Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.  



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