My favourite internet information source states that, “Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year.” I have much to be thankful for over these past twelve months and I sure hope you do as well.
The United States of America is our closest neighbour, trading partner and ally. Because of its geographical closeness to Canada, Canadians have been inundated with American television for over 60 years. I’m going to go out on a limb here and also say that Canadians were taught a lot more about American history than Americans have been taught about Canadian history, so…short story long…as usual…between the TV and the history lessons, Canadians are very well acquainted with the American story of the first Thanksgiving by the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621.
Following the Pilgrims’ historical Great Britain roots the event was both a religious thanksgiving as well as a harvest festival and over time it evolved into a single day Thanksgiving event. Many state governors began to recognize an annual “Thanksgiving Day” and the custom quickly spread to many other regions of the country culminating in President Abraham Lincoln declaring it a national holiday in 1863. Many of the states had celebrated Thanksgiving Day on different dates until Lincoln’s proclamation made it the last Thursday in November.
One of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada may be attributed to British explorer Martin Frobisher. Frobisher and his fifteen ship expedition were searching for the Northwest Passage and his last voyage definitely wasn’t “third time’s the charm” as he encountered ice and freak storms which scattered his fleet. Upon the ships and crews finally meeting safely together again in what is now called “Frobisher Bay” on Baffin Island the expedition’s minister led them all in a prayer to be “thankefull to God for their strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places.”
Years later, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, in 1604 onwards also held huge feasts of thanks. 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.
After the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal to Great Britain moved from the newly independent United States and came to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada, such as the turkey, pumpkin, and squash.
Currently we Canadians celebrate our Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October. The reason for the earlier date has often been attributed to the early onset of winter in our northern climate, thus ending harvest season earlier. Prior to Confederation, and similar to our American neighbours, Thanksgiving didn’t have a fixed date as individual governors of the Canadian provinces declared their own days of Thanksgiving, but by the end of the 19th century the date of November the 6th had been established as Thanksgiving Day. However, when World War I ended the Armistice Day holiday was usually held during the same week so to prevent the two holidays from clashing with one another, in 1957 the Canadian Parliament proclaimed Thanksgiving to be observed on its present date on the second Monday of October.
Hopefully you will be thankful for my Thanksgiving history and the reasons why Canadians and Americans celebrate the holiday in a similar manner but on different dates. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving long weekend feasting with friends and family. I know I will.
“Thanksgiving Day is a good day to recommit our energies to giving thanks and just giving.”-Amy Grant (1960-).