“It is for giving thanks to God for a turkey:” What people outside the US think Thanksgiving means

Pretty weird, when you think about it.
Pretty weird, when you think about it.
Image: Reuters/Jason Reed
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For anyone exposed to American media and entertainment—that is, much of the world—there is no escaping Thanksgiving.

The holiday looms large in the American consciousness, and around this time of year it’s projected out to the world. This is also the time when American expats face tricky questions from the locals about colonialism, shopping, and putting pumpkin in pies.

Even if you don’t celebrate it, you probably have some idea what Thanksgiving is about. To test this notion, reporters in Quartz’s London office quizzed their far-flung friends about what they think Thanksgiving means. Their answers ranged from earnest to amusing, and some were even pretty accurate…

More or less correct

“Something about the pilgrims/colonists being thankful and celebrating by eating a turkey.”—Mirjam (Netherlands)

“A time to celebrate with family and friends and give thanks for a good harvest. Today it’s about being with family and giving thanks for all the good things we receive.”—Oscar (Colombia)

“Early settlers dying of hunger post summer, Native Americans gave them food and taught them how to survive on the land? Local wild turkey, pumpkin, and cranberries? Is that even close?”—Emi (UK)

More or less correct, with a dash of British sarcasm

“I believe it was about the early European (mainly English and Scottish) settlers in America, who were mainly a devout bunch, giving thanks to God for the fact that they had grown enough food for the winter and not been eaten by bears.”—Lucian (UK)

“Thanksgiving is, if I recall correctly, because some early European settlers in North America were starving as winter approached and then some natives gave them some food, possibly a turkey, and then the settlers said thank you, and then in return gave them smallpox, syphilis, and alcoholism and wiped them out so that was nice.”—Martin (UK)

More or less correct, in these modern times

“It has always astonished me the fact that Americans endure all kind of travel disruptions, roadblocks, fight delays, thunderstorms, and hurricanes just for a dinner.”—Marta (Spain)

“As a voracious consumer of American Twitter, my answer is ‘arguing.'”—Anonymous (India)

Shop ‘til you drop

“Getting together with family and friends to drink, eat and be thankful for what you have. Lots of pumpkin pie and then crazy shopping on Black Friday after you were thankful for what you have… ultimate irony.”—Ksenia (Russian)

“Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks to the shopkeepers who are going to offer huge discounts the following day. The more thanks are offered the bigger the discounts!”—Ana Maria (Dominican Republic)

Lost in translation

“I always thought it had to do with the war of independence.” —Margaret (UK)

“It is for giving thanks to your family and God for a turkey. The reason is to highlight the lean meat of the easily overlooked turkey bird and at the same time get some time off work. It’s the US way of giving thumbs up for family and the turkey business!”—Linus (Sweden)

Feeling the spirit

“People celebrate a moment where amongst family and friends they show their gratitude to God for all the blessings they’ve received. And I think the holiday should be celebrated not just on one day, but every day! Today, people only remember God when they have a problem or are in a difficult situation. Thankfulness isn’t only for when we have something good or we get something. We should always be thankful for the simple fact of existing, and be grateful to God every day for being alive, for being able to share with friends and family.”—Kennia (Brazil)