I first wrote this post in 2017 about Thanksgiving in Canada, and have reprised it every year since. Why re-invent the wheel, right? At any rate, I would like to wish all of my Canadian friends a very Happy Thanksgiving! Save me some leftovers, okay?
🇨🇦 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.