When Jon and I lived in Texas back in the late 70’s, the students from Canada gathered together for Canadian Thanksgiving. Six weeks later, we’d get to do it all over again with the Americans.
Ever wonder how the Thanksgiving holiday started in Canada or why we celebrate on a different day than the Americans’? I always assumed it was simply because our northern harvest happens earlier. But I did some digging and found out otherwise. Am I the only one who didn’t know all this stuff?
Before the first Europeans arrived in North America, the farmers in Europe held celebrations at harvest time. To give thanks for their good fortune and the abundance of food, the farm workers filled a curved goat’s horn with fruit and grain. This symbol was called a cornucopia or horn of plenty. When they came to Canada, they brought this tradition with them.
In the year 1578 (43 years before the pilgrims gave thanks for the bounty that ended a year of hardships and death), the English navigator Martin Frobisher held a formal ceremony, in what is now Newfoundland, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies.
At the same time, French settlers, having arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed “The Order of Good Cheer” and gladly shared their food with their Aboriginal neighbours.
After the Seven Year’s War ended in 1763, the citizens of Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving.
The Americans who remained faithful to the government in England were known as Loyalists. At the time of the American Revolution, they moved to Canada and spread the Thanksgiving celebration to other parts of the country. Many of the new English settlers from Great Britain were also used to having a harvest celebration in their churches every autumn.
Eventually in 1879, Parliament declared November 6 a day of Thanksgiving and a national holiday.
Through the years, many dates were used for Thanksgiving, the most popular the third Monday in October. After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11 occurred. So in 1931, the two days became separate holidays and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day.
Finally, on January 31, 1957, Parliament proclaimed, “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured ... to be observed on the second Monday in October.”
To me, that proclamation is loaded with significance. Our government doesn’t mention God much these days. We continue to celebrate thanksgiving and encourage one another to be grateful, but whom exactly are we thanking? Are we “throwing it out there to The Universe”?
How would you feel if, after providing your family with an awesome feast, they said thanks to the afghan on the sofa or some other inanimate object you had created, rather than to you? Personally, I’d feel insulted and less inclined to cook next time.
I say, let’s all give thanks where thanks are due or else go to work and don’t take advantage of the holiday.
Good thing God is more gracious and tolerant than I. Yet another reason for us all to be truly thankful.