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Language professors discuss Thanksgiving traditions abroad

Every fourth Thursday of November since 1863, Americans have flocked to their dinner tables to celebrate Thanksgiving, a key holiday in the United States. But Thanksgiving has also become widely adopted in other countries, such as Japan and Brazil, albeit with different twists within each culture.

Though a traditionally American holiday, Thanksgiving has become widely adopted by other countries such as Japan and Brazil. COURTESY OF JILL WELLINGTON VIA PIXABAY

In Brazil, where the holiday was legally established in 1949, celebrations are a much more casual affair. For Brazilians, the day is generally more popular among religious sects in what is called “Dia de Acao de Gracas” — “Day of Thanksgiving” in Portuguese.

Célia Bianconi, coordinator of Boston University’s Portuguese language program, said while the holiday is widely known in Brazil, the country has failed to unite its citizens in celebration like its American counterpart. Rather, small groups, such as religious communities, are more involved in the holiday.

“It’s a day for you to pray and to be grateful for what you have,” Bianconi said. “It’s from the Catholic perspective of [Thanksgiving] … It’s always adapted for the country where you are.”

Sarah Frederick, associate professor of Japanese at BU, said Japan has a tradition called “Niiname-no-Matsuri” — where the emperor of Japan offers up the season’s first bountiful grain harvest to the gods. Frederick said in modern-day Japan’s “Kinro Kansha no Hi,” citizens show appreciation for working people.

While traditional Thanksgiving fare may be familiar to Americans, Brazilians have reworked the feast to exclude the standard Thanksgiving turkey. Instead, if Brazilians were to celebrate the day with a meal, the centerpiece of the table would generally include feijoada, Brazil’s national dish: a black bean stew cooked with various meats, such as salted and smoked pork and beef.

Similar to the American Thanksgiving, the commercialization behind the holiday is also seen in Brazilian culture through Black Friday, which is celebrated in Brazil as well. Bianconi said she believes companies have taken advantage of the globalization of the American tradition to host sales and boost profits across the world.

“It’s more commercialized than anything else. There’s nothing to do with the Thanksgiving itself,” Bianconi said. “Businesses are very international, and they want to sell [products].”

Frederick said the same goes for Black Friday in Japan, where globalization has impacted online shopping providers by increasing the country’s output of domestic goods.

“There’s a marketing attempt surrounding [Thanksgiving], trying to get people to buy gifts for their coworkers,” Frederick said. “Amazon Japan is very popular right now, so they have started to do Cyber Monday a little bit.”

Frederick said in Japan, Thanksgiving is typically held on Nov. 23, and has been a tradition since 1947. A celebration of agricultural labor, the holiday means a day off for workers and a celebration of their efforts, similar to Labor Day in the U.S.

While most people in the country don’t typically celebrate the holiday, Frederick said, Japanese residents tend to see advertisements promoting gifts to buy for workers.

“The main place that people see it is in the school system,” Frederick said. “They often teach it as a time to thank your parents or others who are working.”

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