Friday, October 07, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving



This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada. To most this means a day off of work and lots of turkey to eat. But why do we get a holiday in October and is it at all related to the holiday of the same name in America?

Thanksgiving in Canada has generally thought to come from three traditions.

The North American Thanksgiving goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but in 1578 he held a formal ceremony in what is now called Newfoundland, to give thanks for surviving the long journey.

European farmers in Europe held celebrations at harvest time to give thanks for their good fortune of a good harvest and abundance of food. They would often fill a curved goat's horn with fruits and grains. This was known as a cornucopia or horn of good plenty. When Europeans came to Canada it is thought to have become an influence on the Canadian Thanksgiving tradition.

The third influence happened in 1621 in what was to become the United States.

The third influence started in 1621 as pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in the "New World". Around 1750 this celebration of harvest was brought to Nova Scotia by American settlers from the south. At the same time, French settlers arriving were also holding feasts of "thanksgiving". These celebrations and offerings of "Thanks" influenced the Canadian Thanksgiving.

As is the case with most of Canadian history our Thanksgiving traditions are a blend of European and American with a bit of our own influences as well. Even our language is a mix of British and American English.

So now we've got a basic understanding of why Thnksgiving occurs and its traditions but what's with the date?

In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November according to a declaration by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. In 1879, Canadian Parliament declared November 6th a day of Thanksgiving and a national holiday. Over the years many more dates were used for Thanksgiving, the most popular was the 3rd Monday in October. After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11th occurred. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day.

Finally, on January 31st, 1957, Parliament proclaimed...

"that the 2nd Monday in October" ... "be a Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed."

So why is our holiday on a different day than the U.S.?

If you think about it this does make sense - since in Canada we have a shorter growing season and our harvest is sooner then in the US - our Thanksgiving celebrations should be earlier to celebrate the harvest time.


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