Happy Thanksgiving … Joyeux Action de Grâce

Happy Thanksgiving Canada!

I just realized, after a comment by friend Emily (Eschudel of Zombie Flamingoes) that today is Thanksgiving … in Canada!  Action de grâce!

Now, for those outside Canada, I thought I would look a bit into the history of Canada’s Thanksgiving.  We all know the lovely little story about the pilgrims and the natives and the first Thanksgiving in the U.S., which is basically a myth, but whatever.  So, I wondered if Canada has such a feel-good story too.  Well, turns out it’s confusing, but … let me tell you what I found, and then perhaps some of our Canadian friends will either correct me, or fill in the gaps.

According to Wikipedia …

“Thanksgiving is an annual Canadian holiday, occurring on the second Monday in October, which celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the past year.

According to some historians, the first celebration of Thanksgiving in North America occurred during the 1578 voyage of Martin Frobisher from England, in search of the Northwest Passage.

Years later, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, from 1604, also held feasts of thanks. They even formed the Order of Good Cheer and held feasts with their First Nations neighbors, at which food was shared.

After the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763, with New France handed over to the British, the citizens of Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving days were observed beginning in 1799 but did not occur every year.

During and after the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal to Great Britain moved from the newly independent United States to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada, such as the turkey, pumpkin, and squash.

The first Thanksgiving Day after Canadian Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872, to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness.

For many years before it was declared a national holiday in 1879, Thanksgiving was celebrated in either late October or early November. From 1879 onward, Thanksgiving Day has been observed every year.”

But then, I found an article in The Star (Toronto) that I think is more likely to be authentic …

“In the case of Thanksgiving Day, the critical actors were a group of Protestant clergymen in what is now Ontario. In 1859, these men petitioned the Canadian colonial government to declare a mid-week day of thanksgiving in recognition of the harvest. The government agreed to the ministers’ request, and it would do so again four more times before 1866, and annually beginning in 1871.

Protestant leaders had dual motives in lobbying for an autumn holiday. First, they wanted to reassure Canadian Christians, whose faith had been shaken by the publication of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1859.

Second, they felt obligated to mould Canadian identity in light of the prospect — and after 1867, the reality — of Confederation. To clergymen, an abundant harvest provided proof of God’s hand in nature, and evidence that Canadians were a chosen people. As such, a holiday that celebrated the harvest would give them the opportunity to remind Canadians of both their material prosperity and their divine national destiny.

Initially, Canadian Thanksgiving was a solemn and pious occasion compared to its American namesake. All businesses closed for the day, and church services were the only activities of note. Ministers delivered sermons that blended nationalism with religious dogma. Against the backdrop of the American Civil War, they hailed the superiority of British political institutions and praised Canada (incorrectly) for having avoided the evils of slavery.

Overall, their Thanksgiving sermons celebrated Canada for being a white, British, Protestant country — a perspective that pointedly ignored the presence of French Canadians, Catholics, Indigenous people, and non-British immigrants.

In time, however, the Protestant conception of Thanksgiving Day, and the narrow definition of Canadian identity that it promoted, gave way to other influences. From the 1870s onwards, holiday church services lost ground to secular community events and commercial amusements.

Meanwhile, Canadians began adopting American Thanksgiving traditions, such as family gatherings, turkey dinners, and football games. Such activities enabled previously excluded groups to stake their own claims to Thanksgiving, and by extension, to Canadian citizenship.

By 1957, when the government permanently fixed the timing of Thanksgiving Day, the holiday’s domestic focus was firmly established. While many Canadians used the occasion to close their summer cottages for the season, others devoted the day to family get-togethers and turkey dinners.

Today, Canadian Thanksgiving shows few hints of its religious and nationalist beginnings.”

Interesting … things are rarely as they seem on first glance, and it is always fun to delve into the traditions and history of other nations.  At any rate, I wish all my Canadian friends & readers a very Happy Thanksgiving … Joyeux Action de grâce. You have one very obvious thing to be thankful for:  that you have Justin Trudeau instead of Donald Trump! I hope you were all able to celebrate with loved ones, much laughter and good food.

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19 thoughts on “Happy Thanksgiving … Joyeux Action de Grâce

  1. Dear Jill,
    DITTO! Happy Thanksgiving … Joyeux Action de grâce.to all our Canadian friends. They have plenty to be grateful over, least of which is a sane good looking leader who doesn’t have easy access to a nuclear football.
    I can’t help but be jealous.
    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Canadian Thanksgiving is, as you say, an adaptation of the British celebration of the ‘Harvest Festival’ which is is traditionally held on the Sunday near or of the Harvest Moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (22 or 23 September).

    The harvest festival is actually Pagan in origin… A celebration of the ‘plentiful bounty’ that the spirits of the land have provided. The early Christian church adopted the festival (as it did with Easter and Christmas) to bring pagan worshipers into the Christian fold. As an added attraction, the church encouraged donations of the harvest to be made to the church (a 10% tithe of the harvest which nowadays is 10% of wages for the year). The church would give out food to the poor and needy (a task now performed by volunteer food banks).
    Today, in Britain, some older churches still encourage food donations…and they are laid out, along with flowers and autumnal grains, gourges and root vegetables at the foot of the altar.

    So I think it is safe to presume that although somewhat altered over the millennia, all Thanksgiving festivals have their origins back in lost history… A time when we actually thought our land was really something very special!

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    • Thanks for the additional info! I was unaware of most of that … however my friend Herb was mentioning yesterday that most holidays seem to have their roots in pagan rituals. Apparently he was right.

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  3. Thanks for the lovely history lesson and the warm wishes on this ThanksgivingDay in Canada, Jill! Yes, on this particular Thanksgiving Day, Justin Trudeau is very high on our appreciation list. Of course, Canadian Tories don’t like him much – he’s too LIBERAL – but we won’t go there!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Personally, I love Trudeau … I have written about him a time or two, and am always impressed by him. I don’t think I realized you were Canadian … or if I did, I had forgotten (that would be no surprise, with my feeble ol’ mind). Happy Thanksgiving, then, my friend!

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      • Thanks, Jill – we had a lovely day of celebration! Yes, I live in Waterloo, Ontario – an hour west of Toronto. Our twin city is Kitchener (we are attached at the hip) and together we host the world’s largest Oktoberfest celebration outside of Munich, Germany. Our Thanksgiving weekend is always the kickoff for Oktoberfest.

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        • I would love to see an authentic Oktoberfest some day! Our city has an Oktoberfest celebration for a weekend sometime in September, which always seems a bit off, since it is, I presume, called Oktoberfest for a reason. But here it is mostly an excuse for people to consume massive amounts of beer and then act like idiots. Ah well … perhaps I shall have to visit Ontario some October! 🍂

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          • We have the idiot drinkers too, Jill, but we also have the police out in full force conducting RIDE programs – stopping every car leaving the many beer halls around the twin cities. But there are some family and cultural events too. They say that our Thanksgiving Day Parade with the dual theme is the finest in the country. By the way, cities in Germany celebrate Oktoberfest in September too… go figure! Something else we can blame on the Nazis! LOL! Seriously, I’m sure you’d enjoy the visit, Jill!

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