Photo: @mitras_fotogalerie on Instagram.
Tired of the same old turkey-feast-and-football combo come the fourth Thursday of every November? (Just kidding; who could get tired of that?) Or maybe you just want to get away from the family and its inevitable feuds. A long holiday weekend is the perfect time for a getaway. The United States isn’t the only country with a national holiday for giving thanks. Experience Thanksgiving a whole new way by traveling to Germany, Japan, Canada, Liberia, or The Netherlands and partaking in their traditions centered around gratitude. A different culture, solitude, adventure – now there’s a few things worth being thankful for.
Québécois give thanks on the second Monday of October in a holiday named “action de grâce.” While the date is a statutory holiday, it isn’t as standardized in celebration in Quebec as Thanksgiving is in the United States. Whether or not you celebrate “action of grace” likely depends on your family. If nothing else, locals enjoy a long weekend. Montreal is worth a visit no matter what the season, but the early October time is particularly stunning. Stay at the statuesque Hotel Gault in Old Montreal, where the boutique hotel’s façade is straight out of the 19th Century but its suites are decadently modern. It will still be warm enough to walk, and walk you should. Take a food or brewery tour or explore on your own; you can’t go wrong with Maison Publique, the upscale gastropub of Chef Derek Dammann. If you’re up for a road trip, head to the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Parade, about a six-hour drive from Montreal.
If you can pronounce “Erntedankfest,” you’re well on your way to celebrating Thanksgiving in Germany. Typically celebrated on the first Sunday of October (though that date can vary depending on region), the holiday isn’t as much about an all-you-can-eat feast as it is about gathering with friends and family in honor of the harvest. Turkey wasn’t traditionally a part of Erntedankfest until recently. More common fowl include fattened-up chickens (masthühnchen), castrated roosters (der kapaun), or hen (die poularde). Turkey is becoming more popular, however, so at least that part of an Americanized meal you can source in-country. As for items like pureed pumpkin? You may have to order them online. Festivities for Erntedankfest are often run by churches, and include small-town fair-like events like parades, live music, and a processional that involves the crowning of a harvest king and queen. Light-centric events, like torch parades or fireworks, are also part of some of Germany’s Erntedankfest rituals.
Prior to landing on the shores of what is now the United States on the Mayflower, many pilgrims lived in the Netherlands. No wonder, then, that Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition for the Dutch on the third Thursday of November. Check out the annual Thanksgiving celebration at the Pieterskerk, a gothic church in Leiden, followed by a visit to the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. If you prefer Rotterdam-Delfshaven, stop by the Pilgrims Fathers’ Church for an in-depth history lesson. If you’re looking for an American-style Thanksgiving meal, it shouldn’t be hard to find as turkey is increasingly common (if more expensive) in the Netherlands. Add an authentic Dutch twist to your mashed potatoes with a dish called “stamppot,” which incorporates kale. But don’t expect any pumpkin pie; it’s not really a “thing” there yet. Opt for a slice of (what else?) Dutch apple pie instead.
Thanksgiving doesn’t exactly translate to Japanese, but Japan does have its own holiday around the same time as the American Thanksgiving. It’s called Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinro-kansha-no-hi), which takes place annually on November 23rd. Inaugurated in 1948, the premise is to give thanks for the country’s workers. Government offices close and sometimes children honor the day by making cards for local hospital employees, firefighters, and police officers. The holiday has its roots in a harvest festival that involved a ritual rice-tasting by the Emperor and reverence for “kami,” the harvest for the spirits. Big feasts are not a central theme of the holiday, though some restaurants will offer a limited-time-only American Thanksgiving-themed menu. Celebrate the capitalist way by staying at the lush Mandarian Oriental Hotel in Tokyo followed by a meal at the Hard Rock Café.
Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the United States, and therefore its holidays mirror many of the U.S.’s. The West African country of 4.6 million celebrates Thanksgiving the first Thursday of November. Christians attend church, bearing fresh fruit that is auctioned after the service. Family feasts tend toward spicy and revolve around roast chicken, green bean casserole, and mashed cassavas (a South American tuber). Traveling to Liberia is surprisingly economical. Even in Monrovia, the capital city, the best hotels cost less than $250 a night. Make sure to visit Mount Nimba, a mountainous nature reserve, and the Liberian National Museum for a peek at the country’s artistic, historic, and cultural artifacts.