This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving.
I looked up the history of the holiday here, to see the difference between it and the more famous and grandiose American Thanksgiving.
It turns out that it’s a complicated tale of politics and persuasion. There are silly reasons to justify details – did you know the October date is not so much because of harvest? It was chosen because November was far too cold and besides, outdoor sports should really be a part of the Thanksgiving festivities.
There were many historical tidbits that I didn’t recall from our family table when we talked over turkey. I looked at articles from Time and Macleans magazines, a listing in the Canadian Encyclopedia and even an article from the U.S. that gave an individual’s point of view from south of the border.
All these accounts included some hair-raising details that did not seem to relate to being thankful, unless you thought you could be thankful for your own good fortune and mention how others were not worthy in the same speech. For example:
• Canadian (settler) Thanksgiving is considered to have started with a dinner series hosted by Samuel de Champlain in 1606, before the American feast in 1621. They were meant to help avoid a scurvy epidemic with healthy food, and the local Mi’kmaq families who helped the settlers were invited. But those dinners also included a strong suggestion for the Indigenous people to pledge allegiance to the European settlers (Perhaps a bit pushy when you’re the new kids in town?)
• A women’s magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale was a major campaigner for “a national day of thanksgiving”, along with many Protestant ministers, but only if it was done in a Christian way. (Not exactly an inclusive philosophy when that leaves out Indigenous peoples and folks of other religious persuasions)
• An early reason given for being thankful as Canadians in more than a few speeches and sermons was that “we are not Americans,” for reasons such as not having slavery (which we, in fact, did have) and not having had a Civil War (even though we had the Riel Rebellion).
A few more interesting facts:
• It was the railways compnies that lobbied for the holiday to be on Monday, to create a long weekend and encourage people to travel (by train, of course.)
• Did you know Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick? I didn’t. Not that one has to have a holiday to be thankful, it’s just another assumption I made, that it was a national holiday.
You might be wondering by now why I am rambling about all this non-food information, and with such a negative tone on what is regarded as a positive holiday. It is easy to see why many people are now calling it a complicated holiday.
I hope to convey the idea that around the table where we do eat—at least once in a while—is often where we can have some of our best conversations and, in conversation, by sharing ideas, we learn and grow and hopefully improve.
I would like to offer a quote from Christine Sismondo, who wrote the piece in Macleans in 2017. She makes a suggestion that I think is a great idea:
[Thanksgiving] is an invented tradition—like all holidays, really—that’s been tied to all manner of mythical stories to promote whatever vision of national or cultural identity was needed at the time. That means it can be re-invented again to mean what we need it to mean now.
I will close with my recipe for pumpkin pie as a peace offering, as that is one of my favourite traditions from this weekend’s gatherings of years gone by.
At least pumpkins can make an honest claim as a reasonable part of the season’s celebrations. They have been a part of harvest meals going back to many places, including European and Indigenous harvest festivals.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.