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Thanksgiving in Australia: Do You Celebrate?

Have you ever celebrated Thanksgiving in Australia? For the first time, I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner this year – and it’s definitely going to be a new family tradition from now on! 

To be honest, I’ve wanted to try it for a while. I have close friends in America and Canada, and have had a penpal in Philadelphia since Grade 6 at primary school. I first visited her when I was 18 and have been back many times. She has also been to both London and Australia to visit me! So, just for fun, we decided to do Thanksgiving in Australia with our family and some friends – and even though I do say it myself, the day was a resounding success. 

If you’re thinking about hosting an Australian Thanksgiving, then you’ll find out all you need to know right here. From when is Thanksgiving day in Australia and an easy Thanksgiving dinner menu to fun Thanksgiving facts and trivia, this special holiday is all covered in this complete guide. 

Our answer to do Australians celebrate Thanksgiving is therefore – yes, of course, if they want an excuse to hold another get-together during the year. And who doesn’t want a reason to eat, drink and make merry with family and friends?

Read so you can plan your perfect Thanksgiving celebrations!

Do they celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia?

Before we get stuck into matters like what to buy for Thanksgiving dinner, let’s address a key question. Does Australia celebrate Thanksgiving?

In general, the answer is no. Thanksgiving is, by and large, an American tradition. So it’s celebrated in the United States, and also in Canada. Grenada and Saint Lucia in the Caribbean also commemorate the occasion, as do the people of Liberia in West Africa. 

Other countries have been known to get in on the act, however. These include Germany in Europe, Brazil in South America and the Philippines in southeast Asia. So in some ways, Thanksgiving is a global phenomenon!

Here in Australia, the occasion of Thanksgiving is marked by American and other expats living here. It’s also celebrated on Norfolk Island, the Australian territory in the South Pacific that lies to the east of the Australian mainland. 

That said, there’s nothing to stop you from following some fun Thanksgiving traditions of your own. If you want to celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia, then why on earth not? 

American Thanksgiving history

As you might well know, the date of Thanksgiving in the USA is the fourth Thursday in November. This was proclaimed by President Roosevelt in 1842. 

However the date of Thanksgiving in Canada is different: since 1957, it’s been celebrated there on the second Monday of October. Hence the version celebrated in the US is sometimes more specifically referred to as “American Thanksgiving”.

It’s universally agreed that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in the US in 1621. This was when the English colonists known as the Pilgrims gave thanks for their first annual harvest in the New World. The original harvest feast was shared with the Wampanoag, who were North American Indian people.

In Canada, though, it’s said that the Thanksgiving tradition can be traced back even further. In 1578, a celebration was held to mark the safe completion of an expedition led by Sir Martin Frobisher, an explorer from Plymouth in England who surveyed the northeast coast of Canada. 

American Thanksgiving today

In modern times, Americans and Canadians have a national holiday each year. Whether held on the fourth Thursday in November (US) or the second Monday of October (Canada), the day gives thanks for the blessings of the past year post harvest-time. 

In the US, Thanksgiving sales are held by many retailers, and the Christmas shopping season is often said to begin with Thanksgiving. Football games are often held, and the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City continues the late 19th and early 20th century tradition of processions being held to commemorate the occasion. 

Numerous Americans travel at this time of year, too, so they can celebrate with friends and family. This has become more common due to social mobility, and family members living all over the country. 

As at Christmas, celebrations centre on the feast. For meat eaters, the Thanksgiving turkey is often the focal point. The earliest Thanksgiving apparently began with colonists heading out in search of fowl, possibly turkey, but probably duck or goose. 

Other traditional Thanksgiving foods served with the roast poultry include cranberry sauce, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, vegetables such as green beans and corn, and gravy. 

Pumpkin pie, meanwhile, is the classic Thanksgiving dessert. This is generally served with whipped cream or ice cream. Pumpkins represent the successful harvest that thanks is being given for. Pecan or apple pie may sometimes be served instead. 

Australian Thanksgiving

Australian Thanksgiving menu

Given that Thanksgiving isn’t an Australian holiday – and that this is a laid-back kind of place – there are no rules when it comes to an Australian thanksgiving menu. You can go all-out by serving the traditional turkey feast with all the trimmings, throw a barbie or even stick to easy Thanksgiving snacks instead. 

If you want to take a few tips from the professionals, then Delicious magazine suggests roast turkey accompanied by cranberry sauce, gravy, roast potatoes, sweet potato mash, green beans and a creamy cauliflower cheese. 

Bestrecipes.com.au, meanwhile, suggests you might like to cook Moroccan style barbecued turkey instead of a roast. This can be served with sides such as a potato bake or hasselback potatoes, cornbread or stir-fried kale. 

But the rules are that there are no rules! If you’d prefer to serve seafood, chicken or lamb instead of turkey, then go right ahead. On Pinterest, Australian Thanksgiving ideas include homemade TimTams, pavlova or lamingtons with strawberry jam. Before dessert, it’s suggested that you could devour a light, fruity salad or even chicken chop suey. 

If you’re having a Thanksgiving party rather than a sit-down meal, any barbecued or finger food should go down well. 

Best Thanksgiving wine

Given the availability of fine Australian wine, for many it would be a crime not to enjoy a glass or two alongside your Thanksgiving meal. But which varieties are the best choices?

If you’re going down the tried and tested roast turkey route, then the best wine to pair with this type of poultry is a Pinot Noir. Wines made with this type of grape are tangy and a little tart. Just like cranberry sauce, in fact. 

Pinot Noir can also have a herby edge that complements autumn vegetables. Otherwise, lighter reds like Gamay go very well with poultry. 

If you prefer white wine, then opt for something more full-bodied like a chardonnay or viognier that can match the rich side dishes. The sparkling wines that Australian producers do so well also go well with the traditional Thanksgiving feast. 

When you’re flouting tradition – serving fish, a barbecue or party food instead of a full-on feast – then go with whatever pairing works well for you. A few bottles of bubbles will never go amiss; after all this is a special occasion!

Thanksgiving decorations in Australia

If you want to decorate your home or backyard for Thanksgiving in spring, then it’s traditional to opt for an American-style fall theme. So think autumn colours like orange, and of course pumpkins are de rigueur. Fall leaves are also a popular choice. 

It’s easy to find items like decorative pumpkins and leaves at Amazon Australia. If you don’t fancy the usual fall colours, you can also source these in white, wine red or hues of blue. Place these around your home or on the table to create the right atmosphere. 

Click here to shop for Thanksgiving decorations

10 Fun Thanksgiving facts

As you sit down to a Thanksgiving feast, why not share some of these bits of Thanksgiving trivia with your nearest and dearest?

  1. The first Thanksgiving lasted for three days

Instead of one Thursday in late November – or Monday in mid-October (as in Canada) – the first Thanksgiving feast is said to have gone on for three days!

  1. American colleges started the football tradition

NFL games have been played at Thanksgiving in the US since 1920. This tradition was kick-started by a Yale vs Princeton game held over 40 years before that. 

  1. US Presidents pardon turkeys

George H. W. Bush (that’s Bush senior) was the first US president to pardon a turkey in 1989. The handing over of the seasonal turkey was meant to provide a photo op, but instead the first President Bush decided to pardon the bird by giving it a stay of execution. The presidential pardon is now an established Thanksgiving tradition. 

  1. The Thanksgiving date has changed

As in Canada today, Thanksgiving in the US was previously celebrated in mid-October. Abraham Lincoln changed this to November to fit in with when the Pilgrims landed. 

  1. Only male turkeys “gobble”

Female turkeys cannot in fact gobble: it’s only the males that make this sound. Instead, female birds tend to cackle or even purr. 

  1. There’s a Turkey Talk-Line in the US and Canada

Residents of the US and Canada who are stuck on how to cook their turkey can call a seasonal helpline for advice. It’s run by Butterball, a major name in turkey products. 

  1. Central Park Zoo animals once went on parade

The first Macy’s annual parade was held in 1924 to celebrate Christmas rather than Thanksgiving. It featured creatures such as bears, elephants and monkeys from Central Park Zoo!

  1. Thanksgiving leftovers inspired TV dinners

The over-ordering of turkeys in 1953 led to one entrepreneur coming up with premade meals to use up the leftovers. The story goes that Gerry Thomas, a Swanson employee, dreamt up the idea of adding sweet potatoes, peas, cornbread sauce and gravy to the turkey on reheatable trays. 10 million of these frozen Swanson TV dinners were sold by the end of the following year. 

  1. DrinksGiving happens before Thanksgiving…

The night before Thanksgiving always falls on a Wednesday, and this date is known as DrinksGiving. As you might imagine, many drinks are often sunk on this date, and as a result it can also be known as Black Wednesday. 

  1. …and Brown Friday happens afterwards

It’s only only about Black Wednesday – aka DrinksGiving. Or even Black Friday, when the festive shopping season begins. Brown Friday is the day after, and is so-called because this is one of the busiest times of the year for plumbers in the US. We’ll leave it to you to work out why that’s the case!

20 cute Thanksgiving sayings

If sharing a Thanksgiving story like those above isn’t enough to entertain your guests, how about quoting some sweet Thanksgiving sayings? You could even print one of these out for each place setting, as a guaranteed conversation starter. 

  1. “Forever on Thanksgiving the heart will find the pathway home.” – Wilbur D. Nesbit
  2. “Thanksgiving is a time to count your blessings, one by one, as each relative goes home.” – Melanie White
  3. “Thanksgiving is the meal we aspire for other meals to resemble.” – Jonathan Safran Foer
  4. “He who thanks but with the lips thanks but in part; the full, the true Thanksgiving comes from the heart.” – J.A. Shedd
  5. “Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude.” – E.P. Powell
  6. “Thanksgiving isn’t just a day. It’s a way we can live our lives every day.” – Katrina Mayer
  7. “Thanksgiving is the holiday that encompasses all others. All of them, from Martin Luther King Day to Arbor Day to Christmas to Valentine’s Day, are in one way or another about being thankful.” – Jonathan Safran Foer
  8. “If you think about a Thanksgiving dinner, it’s really like making a large chicken.” – Ina Garten
  9. “I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” – Henry David Thoreau
  10. “For those of you who cannot be with family this Thanksgiving, please resist the urge to brag.” – Andy Borowitz
  11. “We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s what they mean by Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.” – Marcie in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
  12. “Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.” – Robert Caspar Lintner
  13. “If you think Independence Day is America’s defining holiday, think again. Thanksgiving deserves that title, hands-down.” – Tony Snow
  14. “Give thanks not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day of your life. Appreciate and never take for granted all that you have.” – Catherine Pulsifer
  15. “Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” – Henry Van Dyke
  16. “It has been an unchallengeable American doctrine that cranberry sauce, a pink goo with overtones of sugared tomatoes, is a delectable necessity of the Thanksgiving board and that turkey is uneatable without it.” Alistair Cooke
  17. “Thanksgiving Day is a good day to recommit our energies to giving thanks and just giving.” – Amy Grant
  18. “I love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday centred around food and family, two things that are of utmost importance to me.” – Marcus Samuelsson
  19. “Thanksgiving is a joyous invitation to shower the world with love and gratitude.” – Amy Leigh Mercree
  20. “I can’t cook a Thanksgiving dinner. All I can make is cold cereal and maybe toast.” – Charlie Brown

Australian Thanksgiving FAQs

Does Australia and New Zealand celebrate Thanksgiving?

So is Thanksgiving celebrated in Australia and New Zealand? Not as a rule, but in these laid-back lands there are no rules! American expats living in Australia are likely to carry on celebrating Thanksgiving, and it’s also commemorated on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific, which is an Australian territory. 

Anyone who wants to, anywhere in the world, can of course celebrate Thanksgiving if they want to! 

What place in Australia celebrates Thanksgiving?

What is the place in Australia that celebrates Thanksgiving? The people of Norfolk Island in the South Pacific, which is an Australian territory, do celebrate Thanksgiving. Norfolk Island lies between New Caledonia and New Zealand.

Thanksgiving is of course commemorated elsewhere in Australia among American and Canadian expats. It can also be celebrated by anyone who wants to do so. 

Why does Australia celebrate Thanksgiving?

Why is Thanksgiving celebrated in Australia? When it is, it’s often because this gives people a chance to show their gratitude and share the love. Giving thanks for all the good things in our lives is surely a good thing to celebrate in October (as in Canada), November (as in the US), or at any time of the year. 

Is Thanksgiving like Australia Day?

There is not a National day of Thanksgiving in Australia as there is in the US, where this is a public holiday. Australia Day is held on the 26th January each year, honouring the date when the British flag was raised at Sydney Cove by Arthur Phillip. Regattas, horse races and fireworks typically form part of the Australia Day celebrations. 

For comparison, Thanksgiving is more like Christmas than Australia Day, as a turkey dinner forms part of the usual celebrations. 

What do people in Australia eat for Thanksgiving?

A full Thanksgiving dinner eaten anywhere in the world emulates what is eaten in the US. The most popular type of feast is a turkey dinner, served with trimmings such as mashed or roasted regular or sweet potatoes, corn or cornbread, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy. For dessert, pumpkin, apple or pecan pie are traditional choices. 

What is the most celebrated holiday in Australia?

The most popular public holiday in Australia is Christmas Day. Easter is also widely celebrated, and also part of the Christian calendar. Other nationwide commemorations take place on 26th January for Australia Day, and Anzac Day, which is on 25th April. Each state also has its own designated Labour Day. 

Where did Thanksgiving originate?

The first Thanksgiving in history took place when the Pilgrims celebrated their first annual harvest in 1621. The feast was shared with the Wampanoag North American Indian people, and lasted for three days.

The Thanksgiving tradition goes back even further in Canada, to 1578. Then, a celebration marked the end of a successful expedition led by Sir Martin Frobisher, an English explorer. 

What country calls Thanksgiving “Harvest Festival”?

Germany holds a Thanksgiving celebration known as Erntedankfest during early October. This translates as “harvest thanksgiving festival”. Erntedankfest is also commemorated in Austria and Switzerland. 

Will you celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia?

Whether you cannot wait for Christmas or feel like hosting another sort of celebration altogether, why not think about holding your own Australian Thanksgiving dinner, party or barbecue? It’s a great excuse to get together with family and friends – perhaps without any of the pressure that comes with hosting Christmas. 

We loved having Thanksgiving in Australia, and can highly recommend it. From now on, one thing’s for sure. It’s a definite date for the Families Magazine annual calendar!

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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