Thanksgiving celebrations in China grow, but hold the turkey

  • Emoji-filled selfies and sentimental messages mark a day which is growing in importance on the other side of the world from its American origins
PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2018, 8:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2018, 9:29pm

Despite Thanksgiving’s roots as a North American holiday, more people in China are seeing it as an opportunity to give thanks to their loved ones as awareness of the festival has steadily grown on the other side of the world.

On Thursday, many Chinese internet users took to social media to wish their followers a happy Thanksgiving with emoji-filled selfies and sentimental messages.

The hashtag “Thanksgiving, thanks to you” was viewed more than 8 million times on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, as part of a seasonal campaign backed by US carmaker Ford.

Internet users also flocked to post answers to a trending meme “How many years have we known each other?” on Weibo and WeChat, dedicating heartfelt messages to their parents, long-time friends and favourite Chinese celebrities.

Friends become family: how US expats abroad celebrate Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving originated from the harvest traditions of the English Protestant pilgrims who colonised North America almost four centuries ago, and is a mainstay of American culture.

The holiday falls on the last Thursday in November and is followed by Black Friday, a hugely popular US shopping event. As an occasion to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, it has similarities with the Mid-Autumn Festival which is celebrated across several Asian cultures.

In the US, where it is a public holiday, millions of people flock home to celebrate the festival with relatives or opt for alternative “Friendsgiving” meals with friends.

In China, Weibo user Lingye and her classmates were recently treated to a Thanksgiving feast by an arts education provider during a field trip to Hangzhou, capital of east China’s Zhejiang province.

The 17-year-old from Hefei, in the southeast province of Anhui, was pleasantly surprised by the food on offer, including several roast turkeys, and the warm atmosphere of the event.

“I didn’t originally have any plans to celebrate Thanksgiving,” she said.

“This Sunday we are returning to Hefei to sit exams, and the education network decided to throw us a party to relieve some of the exam pressure.”

While awareness of the festival is slowly catching on in China, it is more likely to be celebrated by Chinese-Americans, or those who have lived in the US before.

Student Wendy Huang, 21, has celebrated Thanksgiving for years by sharing a meal of hotpot with her family in New York City.

“I would say hotpot is fairly common among Chinese-Americans during Thanksgiving. If not hotpot, then usually a family gathering or dinner, but it often doesn’t include turkey,” she said.

“However, I’m not sure how it is for Chinese-Americans on the west coast of America, because hotpot is generally meant for colder weather.”

How Thanksgiving helps Asian-Americans celebrate their culture and identity

Tiffany Ng, 30, makes it a priority to celebrate Friendsgiving in Hong Kong every year, as her relatives are in the US, where she was born and raised.

Ng moved to Hong Kong about five years ago for her job in digital marketing. Her parents were originally from the city but emigrated to Detroit, Michigan.

“My friends are my family here. It’s common with millennials working in big cities who can’t go home to celebrate,” she said.

Ng prefers her Friendsgiving celebrations to be ultra-traditional, with American football on the television, a centrepiece on the table, and both turkey and ham served at dinner.

“I like to give a brief toast before dinner to give thanks,” she said. This year, Ng made apple pie in her small flat while the rest of the food was provided by the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

“A lot of American-born Chinese like to add their own twist to the dishes,” Ng said.

“They bring things like egg rolls, roast suckling pig and even crab rangoons [crab-filled wontons], as a Taiwanese-American friend did once.”

‘Peking turkey’? At Thanksgiving in the United States, it’s on at least one Chinese menu

Hongkonger Jennies Chung spent nine years studying in the US and sees Thanksgiving as an unmissable custom among her friends who have lived abroad.

“I usually celebrate it with friends who returned to Hong Kong like myself and American expats,” said the 30-year-old.

“We’d do potlucks or order food at somebody’s home. It’s more like an excuse for us to hang out and catch up. But it’s good to have some people to reminisce together about the good times in the States.”

Even mainland Chinese who have emigrated to the US sometimes join in with the festivities.

Hu Shujing, 25, moved to the US from Zhongshan, in the southern province of Guangdong, five years ago for university. She has remained in San Francisco, California since graduation.

“I don’t actually celebrate it myself, but the American-born Chinese and Chinese immigrants I know all celebrate it, and invite me over for dinner,” she said, adding that a lot of people would have meals at restaurants to save them the hassle of cooking.

“It’s a bit like gathering with all your relatives for Lunar New Year. But I’m personally more likely to be chasing after deals than giving Thanksgiving dues.”