Thanksgiving Traditions in Asian Countries

Rio Grande Wild Turkey - Star of American Thanksgiving

Wild Turkeys

Are there Thanksgiving traditions in Asian Countries? Thanksgiving is thought of as a true American holiday that started with the Pilgrims celebrating a bountiful harvest with the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. The celebration of the fall harvest is not something new and could easily be found in other countries. So let’s look at the Thanksgiving traditions in some of our favorite tea growing countries.

Mid-Autumn Festival in China

China does not have a holiday that corresponds to the US Thanksgiving. They do have a Mid-Autumn festival that has been around for about 3,000 years that celebrates the first full autumn moon, which happens to correspond with the fall harvest of crops. The Mid-Autumn Festival does includes big dinners with family, but those are the norm for most of the important Chinese holidays. The food of choice for this festival is mooncakes. Not to be confused with the American Moon Pie cookie, mooncakes are a small pastry with a dense filling. There are different fillings and flavors based on the region of China that you live in. They are always served with tea. So we will save a more in depth discussion on mooncakes for a later blog. The Chinese government does recognize American holidays and encourages local businesses to make turkey available around the American holiday where there are larger numbers of American’s are living in China. Currently there are believed to about 100k Americans with green cards living and working in China (The US government does not count US citizens who live aboard that are not associated with the US military or diplomatic operations, it is done by other organizations).

Vietnam… And American Thanksgiving Dinner Feasts

The Vietnamese, much like the Chinese, have a Mid-Autumn festival that celebrates the moon and the fall harvest of crops. Many of the Vietnam holidays follow the Chinese, so this isn’t a surprise. However, Vietnam has a large and growing American tourist trade, so finding an American Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and cranberry sauce is a little easier. You just have to book reservations about a month or two in advance in Hanoi at some of the higher end restaurants to get your turkey dinner with cranberry sauce and stuffing.

Labor Thanksgivig Niiname-sai dance Katori Jingu Shrine, Katori City, Japan

Niiname-sai,traditional Japanese dance by Wikimedia user katorisi.

Japan Labor Thanksgiving

Japan has a formal Thanksgiving holiday on November 23rd every year. It is called Labor Thanksgiving and was introduced into the country after World War II during the U.S. occupation. The Japanese put their own twist on it by using the holiday to honor each others’ work through out the year. Labor unions use the day to hold festivals focused on human rights, peace and the environment. Labor Thanksgiving was combined with the ancient celebration of the fall harvest of rice, Niinamesai. It is documented that Niinamesai was first celebrated in 678 C.E. During Niinamesai, the Emperor presents the first harvest of rice to the Gods and partakes of the rice himself.

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Vietnam Tea Culture

Vietnamese tea culture is heavily influenced by China, but it still has its own practices that are not Chinese. Tea is present at weddings, business meetings, meals, and important celebrations. It is said that any good conversation in Vietnam is only had over a pot of tea.

Vietnam Tea History

Tea traveled into Vietnam from China over a 1,000 years ago and became a part of everyday life within the country. As a country, Vietnam has spent most of its history gaining its independence from various countries that tried to claim it for their own. From China to France, Vietnam has had a tumultuous history of being invaded and ousting its invaders that is reflected in how they view tea and its place in life. One Vietnamese tea poem states “The yellow and green of the tea and the natural scent of flowers symbolize the country, rich in culture and natural resources. Bitterness at the beginning reflects the hard-working life of the people. The sweet and cool taste that lingers evokes the Vietnamese soul, sentimental and faithful.”

The Vietnamese tea culture is centered on bringing people together. Tea is viewed as binding together families and friends through sharing of the drink and stories. Tea is also a negotiator, able to dilute anger or solve disagreements through its soothing qualities and good conversation. For Vietnam, tea is a part of everyday life and consumed through out the day, not just in the morning. Street vendors serve both hot and cold tea through out the day at bus stops and other places where people are generally waiting. It is not uncommon for strangers to sit together at these vendor’s carts and strike up a conversation over tea.

Rise of the Tea Industry

Tea picker in plantation in Vietnam.

Tea Harvesting in Vietnam by Flickr User ePi.Longo (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Vietnamese tea has boomed in both production and quality over the past forty years. Vietnam is the 5th largest producer and exporter of tea in the world. The bulk of its tea is exported to the United States. The Vietnam Tea Association is working with local farmers to help them create their own brands both locally and aboard. Much like India has had success with branding Assam and Darjeeling teas, Vietnam is working toward the same geographic branding and production consistency to allow Vietnamese tea to be seen as a unique and valuable product in its own right.

Vietnamese tea is unique in its flavor profile. It is not always bitter, as mentioned above, but it definitely has that lingering sweet and cool taste. Whether it is a Vietnamese green, black or Lotus flower tea, this country is capable of producing good quality tea and much more should be expected from them in the future.



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