In September 1620, the famous Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers. Those on board hoped to either reach a land that would allow them to practice their faith freely or gain prosperity by way of land ownership. After a grueling journey, the ship landed at what would become the colony of Plymouth. Most of the colonists remained on the ship for shelter during the harsh winter. Scurvy, contagious disease, and exposure to the elements claimed about half their lives, leaving the remaining people to go ashore in March. A member of the Abenaki tribe greeted those who came ashore and brought someone else to meet them.
This was the famed Squanto, who belonged to the Patuxet tribe and had been sold into slavery in London, but found his way back to his homeland. He taught the settlers how to catch fish, dodge poisonous plants, grow corn, and access maple tree sap, as well as connecting them with the local Wampanoag tribe. November 1621 saw the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest, and the governor called for a celebratory three-day feast with their allies, including members of the Wampanoag tribe. Celebratory feasts around this time of year caught on, but the holiday wasn’t official until President Abraham Lincoln called for it to be so in 1863. The tradition spread, and now countries around the world maintain their own Thanksgiving traditions. Here’s a look at those of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
Brazil’s annual seasonal celebration thanking God for a bountiful harvest became known as Dia de Ao de Graas, or Day of Thanksgivings, after the country’s ambassador visited the United States and thought highly of the tradition. The day is always the fourth Thursday in November, but as it hasn’t been named an official holiday, not all Brazilians take part. Traditional food includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving was spread to Japan when America occupied the area during World War II, but the Japanese put their own spin on the tradition of giving thanks, merging it with Niiname-sai, an ancient Shinto harvest ceremony. Labor Thanksgiving Day, or Kinro Kansha no Hi, is on November 23, when workers and laborers are celebrated – usually by exchanging chocolate and candies.
Before present-day England was established, Anglo-Saxon farmers offered an animal and the first-cut corn sheaf as sacrifices to their fertility gods for a fruitful harvest. They believed the Spirit of the Corn lived in the first cut, and people created plaited corn dolls and hung them in the rafters to ensure a prolific remainder of the harvest. People still make corn dolls in modern-day England and have celebratory feasts featuring seasonal produce. Other produce is distributed to the needy and elderly.
Additional reporting by Lauren Gordon.