Turkey Day Traditions Around the World

cornucopiaSince the first Pilgrims at Plymouth joined the Wampanoag American Indians for Thanksgiving in 1621, food remains the centerpiece of this all-American holiday. Not only do we gather around the table to give thanks with our family and friends, but we feast on a cornucopia of home cooking. Traditional American Thanksgiving tables include over-stuffed turkeys, creamy gravy, buttery mashed potatoes and the often reviled cranberry sauce. Top all this off with a slice of pumpkin pie for desert and you have a room full of family and friends primed for a couple of hours indulging in America’s favorite pastime – football.

However, Americans aren’t the only ones using the fall harvest as an excuse to indulge in family feasting. A number of other cultures across the globe have festivals of thanks, leaving in the culinary gluttony while passing on the pig skin.

Many cultures have holidays associated with the Harvest and Jewish culture is no exception. On the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, usually falling in September or October, Jews celebrate Succoth, also known as Feast of Tabernacle. Much like American Thanksgiving, Succoth brings together families over a bountiful meal. The name “Succoth” derives from the Hebrew word for a type of temporary booth lived by farmers during harvest. The same structures were also lived in by Hebrews wandering the wilderness in search of Israel.

While a variety of typical Jewish foods are served at the meal, including gefilte fish and kugel, the serving of stuffed foods is often associated with this holiday. A typical Succoth meal might have baked potatoes, stuffed peppers and some type of stuffed pie. While Greek in origin, some believe that the stuffed foods are meant to represent the cornucopia of harvest often associated with this season.

Canadians don’t celebrate the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth, but they do celebrate their own Thanksgiving that falls on America’s Columbus Day, the second Monday in October. The Thanksgiving tradition in Canada traces back to the 1578 voyage of Martin Frobisher who traveled from England in search of the Northwest Passage. After a harrowing journey, Frobisher celebrated his safe landing on Canadian shores with a harvest feast of Thanksgiving. Today, Canadians gather with friends and family to give thanks and celebrate the close of the harvest season with a meat centerpiece, stuffing and the traditional pumpkin pie.

While the Canadians celebrate a Thanksgiving with their own history, but similar culinary treats, another unlikely nation shares America’s Turkey Day spirit in both name, date and cuisine. In the 1940s, a visiting Brazilian Ambassador found the festivities at the American Thanksgiving at the National Cathedral in Washington, he returned home as a champion of the Thanksgiving holiday. Not long after in 1949, the country adopted its own Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.

Surprisingly, the Brazilian holiday’s menu includes a number of traditional American items, including the turkey and stuffing. Things take a carnival twist, however, with the cranberry sauce. Due to the absence of cranberries in Brazil, it’s not easy to cook up a homemade version of this Thanksgiving staple. Instead, Brazilians make jaboticaba sauce. The jacoticaba is a berry similar to the cranberry in its tart flavor, but it also has some of the sweetness of raspberries. With the exception of the berry substitution, the sauce is prepared the same way. Now every year, both ex-pats and locals enjoy the Thanksgiving tradition Brazilian style.

The Chinese don’t mirror the American Thanksgiving as closely as the Brazilians, but their Winter Solstice Festival embodies many of the same concepts, including reuniting with family over a hearty meal. Taking place in late December, the Winter Solstice Festival or Dōngzhì Festival marks the shortest day of the calendar year. Finding symbolism in the yin and yang philosophy, the Chinese believe that this date marks a transition into positive energy as days become increasingly longer and the New Year arrives.

One traditional dish of the holiday is the tangyuan. These glutinous rice balls are made with and given to family. They sticky concoctions are often filled with sweet or savory stuffing and served in a bowl of sweet or savory broth. The dish symbolizes reunion – a key tradition of the Dōngzhì Festival as families travel from across the nation to come together for the celebration.

To put a spin on tradition in your own house and get your family’s taste buds watering, make a fried turkey your Thanksgiving calling card. The tradition started in The South, but Grandma’s cooking can’t compete with the crispy skin and juicy center of a deep-fried turkey. There’s no batter involved, just an outdoor turkey fryer, oil and some of your favorite seasonings. For the grilling aficionados, a Big Green Egg Grill can also be used to create a smoked turkey. Either of these methods can be combined with traditional seasonings or you might opt to add some flavors from the alternate Thanksgiving celebrations mentioned above.

However you choose to celebrate Turkey day this season, make it memorable with good food, good family and good tradition. Outdora wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving and happy grilling!


Julia Shackelford works as an SEO content developer, blogger, web developer, and creative writer in Petaluma, CA. When she’s not stomping around the Cali wilderness or writing, she works as a consultant and director on short films and educational game products across the Southwestern United States.

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