Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. A time to celebrate the harvest, walk among crisp fallen leaves, and admire the late blooms still brightening the garden. This weekend is the last hurrah of summer, before we settle in for a long, Canadian winter.
Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. No presents to buy. No cards to write. No concerts to prepare. The garden supplies most of the food. The decorations are easy and simple, a potted flower, a couple of pumpkins, a basket of home-made jam.
And turkey leftovers to last the rest of the week. What's not to like?
This year, with our streak of incredible weather, a surprise second crop in the strawberry patch and an autumn coloured maple tree outside my back door, the holiday is even better.
Living so close to the USA, I'm aware that our thanksgiving comes more than a month before theirs, so I decided to look into the origins of our festivity. Turns out Canada can trace thanksgiving back to the 1587 voyage of Martin Frobisher, an English explorer searching for the Northwest Passage. On his third voyage into what is present day Nunavut, the expedition suffered from ice and storms and the loss of one of their ships along with much of the building materials they had brought with them. The fleet was scattered and didn't meet up again until they drew anchor in Frobisher Bay. At that time, a preacher who had sailed with the expedition, preached a sermon exhorting his fellow seamen to be "thankful to God for their strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places. . ."
Thus, the first thanksgiving in Canada was held 43 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.
In 1604, French settlers with Samuel de Champlain in New France, now the Province of Quebec, held huge feasts of thanksgiving, sharing their bounty with local First Nations. Years later, following the Seven Years War, New France was ceded to England and Halifax, a British outpost, celebrated with a Thanksgiving day.
While Canadian customs are similar to European harvest festivals, it was United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American revolution who brought the tradition of turkey and pumpkin pie to their new homes.
The date of Canadian thanksgiving has shifted about over time, occurring anywhere between April and November and often coinciding with the end of hostilities of some form or other. The first Thanksgiving Day after Confederation in 1867 was on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a serious illness. It wasn't until 1879 that Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday and even then the date wasn't fixed, although it usually occurred in late October or early November. Finally, in 1957, Parliament declared the second Monday in October the official date of Thanksgiving.
Since I love to set my thanksgiving table with the fruits of my own garden, the date works perfectly for me. At church too, we celebrate our blessings by loading the communion table with samples of the harvest. We sing hymns like "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come," and "We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land."
In the USA, shopping has become a major part of the thanksgiving celebrations and I notice merchants here are attempting to lure us into the malls over the long weekend, but our holiday is farther away from Christmas so the impulse to begin the Christmas shopping spree is not as great.
In writing this post, I was amazed to discover how a holiday I believed was a simple celebration of the harvest, had so many political overtones. Huh!
So, what about the rest of the world? Do you celebrate the harvest? Do you call it Thanksgiving? Is it a religious occasion? Are there special foods or activities associated with the day? Do Aussie's celebrate Thanksgiving in the spring?
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