Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Story of Canadian Thanksgiving

As Americans ready themselves for a day of Thanksgiving, Canadians find themselves preparing for Christmas. Thanksgiving here was in October, even before Halloween. It takes some getting used to. Canadian Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Pilgrims. Here is the story:

Martin Frobisher and crew first celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in the eastern Arctic in 1578.

Frobisher was driving his boat around the Arctic in 1576 looking for a northern passage to Asia when he discovered Frobisher Bay (and wasn’t that an incredible coincidence?!?) and some ore he thought might contain gold. Frobisher spent the next couple of years trying to become rich mining what seemed like gold ore, and attempting to establish the first English settlement in North America. He failed on both counts, but did manage to celebrate the first North American Thanksgiving. Pilgrims and turkeys (with the possible exception of Frobisher himself) had nothing to do with it.

Besides The Frobisher Incident, there is some anecdotal evidence that Canadian Thanksgiving also draws on a tradition started by residents of Halifax, Nova Scotia who celebrated the end of the Seven Year’s War in 1763. Frankly, I suspect that said citizens actually appropriated the idea from their relatives in Salem, Massachusetts because Halifax was probably the sort of place where any excuse for a party would have to do. Some Canadians claim that this explains the introduction of pumpkin pie, turkey, squash, and the four-day weekend into the holiday. Others blame the United States of America for … well, for being the United States of America.

Thanksgiving Day is proclaimed as “a day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” Thanksgiving is considered a National Holiday in Canada, rather than a religious one, even though there are no extra “U’s” in Thanksgiving the way there are in Labour Day here, and references to God and blessings notwithstanding.

Since 1957, Thanksgiving has been celebrated by decree of Parliament on the second Monday in October. It used to be earlier, and then for a while it was later. After the current date was proclaimed, E.C. Drury, the former “Farmer-Premier” of Ontario lamented that “the farmers' own holiday has been stolen by the towns” to give them a long weekend when the weather was better. This did not impress anyone apparently, perhaps in part because Drury was also a founder and leader of a political party with the unfortunate acronym UFO.

Finally, Frobisher Bay was renamed Iqaluit (ee-KWAL-eh-weet) where the population for some time was mostly Inuit trying to subsist on fishing, and US Air Force personnel staffing the DEW line. This suggests that modern-day Thanksgiving celebrations occurred at the end of November and involved turkeys and satellite dishes receiving American football.

This week we’ll have some of our Canadian friends over and celebrate an American Thanksgiving with turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, wine, strong coffee, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on the cable station from Seattle. Later there will be American football and more pie and coffee.

Next weekend, the Christmas lights go up.


Anonymous said...

Other multi-celebrations are also possible.

Victoria Day plus Memorial Day gives you two long weekends in a row in May. Or maybe even a week-long party.

You can also celebrate July 1st and 4th, even if not necessarily for the original reasons. Again, take two long weekends, or else a whole week. Why not?

I'm thinking somebody should compile a book of holidays and festivals from all the cultures of the world, including the long-extinct ones. Those holidays should still be celebrated, in my view, and we might as well do it since nobody else seems willing. I also think that if we had the full list, nobody would ever have to go to work! ;-)

Anonymous said...

what about april 20th? 4/20 is a huge holiday in the USA

Brittney said...

I asked one of my Canadian classmates what the story was behind their Thanksgiving.... she had no idea... but said that it wasn't to celebrate the massacre of Natives like it is in America! lol

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