Although only celebrated in America, Thanksgiving has universal meaning

Religious rituals and traditions worldwide often encompass giving thanks around the consumption of food, said Luttio

Published Nov. 15, 2010

Each year in the United States, Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November as a time to give thanks for family, friends and a bountiful harvest.

American's Thanksgiving holiday, which dates back to 1621 when the first recorded event was held at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, is unique to the United States.

However, as Mark Luttio, a professor of religious studies and philosophy at Lynn University who was born and raised in Japan, pointed out, most religious rituals and traditions worldwide encompass some element of giving thanks – and these traditions are often celebrated around the consumption of food.

“For me, Thanksgiving means gathering as family – however defined – in gratitude for life's blessings,” said Luttio. “It’s also time for reconstituting the family identity through eating a shared meal and spending time together.”

According to Luttio, people in Japan don’t generally eat turkey. "Growing up in Japan as an expatriate, my memories of Thanksgiving were more about the frantic activity of ‘where to find a turkey,’ rather than about the idyllic celebrations we normally associate with in this country."

“Thanksgiving” in Japan

Although people in other cultures don’t celebrate Thanksgiving as Americans do, Luttio believes giving thanks is a universal experience and desire of all humanity, and therefore, the internal expression is similar around the globe.

“In Japan, the fourth Thursday of November is just like any other normal work day,” said Luttio. “However, the very same idea of setting aside time to give thanks does occur the first three days of the New Year (January 1-3).”

A Japanese New Year is similar to an American Thanksgiving, and food – something Luttio considers to be a universal symbol of fellowship and identity – is at the center of the celebration.

“Special food is prepared and families gather from far and wide to spend time together,” said Luttio. “The same thing that occurs around the thanksgiving table with turkeys in this country occurs in Japan with ‘mochi’ (pounded rice cakes).”

More on Mark Luttio:

Mark Luttio is an associate professor in Lynn’s College of Liberal Education. He teaches a variety of Dialogues of Belief and Reason courses including philosophy and religious studies. Luttio was born in Kyoto, Japan and graduated from high school in Tokyo. He earned a masters of divinity and was ordained as a Lutheran pastor in 1985. Luttio has an in-depth knowledge of religious studies, traditions and cultures around the world. He is available to speak to the media on a variety of issues including the origins of thanksgiving in America and how other cultures celebrate holidays.