Thursday, October 13, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Depending upon which side of the border you reside, this salutation may seem a tad late - or extremely early.

One of the questions I am frequently asked as an American living in Canada is: what differences have I noticed since moving here?  So far most are trivial.  The accents are a bit different (though the same could be said if I had moved to a different part of the States), the metric system (the U.S. being one of the last hold-outs not to make the switch), the dual national languages, and a few other small things.  For the most part is hasn't been much of an adjustment.  I'm not even that far from home, my colleagues from Alberta have a much longer journey to visit family than I do.

However, this past Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving, and what could be considered my first "culture shock."  First, I simply kept forgetting it was a holiday weekend.  Campus and Fanshawe Pioneer Village were closed, people were visiting home and discussing holiday plans, but the three-day weekend kept slipping my mind.  Second, it seems way to early for Turkey Day.  To me, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas season, and yet here we are not even past Halloween yet.  Also, it's a Monday, Thanksgiving on a Monday? Crazy!  (However, after some consideration I realized that Thanksgiving is the only non-date specific national holiday in the U.S. that I could think of not on a Monday - MLK Day, President's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day - all Mondays.)

Curiosity piqued, I decided to do a little research on the different holidays.  All I could recall from American history about Thanksgiving, was that some president over a hundred years ago proclaimed an annual national day of thanksgiving to take place on the last Thursday in November.  A cursory glance over wikipedia confirmed my recollections, and reminded me that it was Abraham Lincoln who made this declaration in 1863 during the Civil War.  (Although other presidents all the way back to George Washington declared other days of "Thanksgiving" although not always at the same time of year, and sometimes multiple times in the same year.)

In elementary school I can remember the stories of Pilgrims and Native Americans eating together and giving thanks at harvest time (commemorated with the creation of paper hats and headdresses.)  As I grew older it became more about food, family tradition, and the start of the holiday season.  When discussing American Thanksgiving with Canadians, I had several tell me that the impression they have is that it is more of a "family oriented" holiday in the States than here in Canada.  I'm not sure if there is that much of a difference, or if it is just marketed differently in each country.

My research into the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving lead me to discover it is not all that different from its American counterpart.    Similar to the history of the holiday in America, days of thanksgiving were observed beginning in 1799 but did not occur every year.  The first Thanksgiving Day after Canadian Confederation was observed in 1872, and starting in 1897 Canadians followed the American tradition of observing the holiday annually on a Thursday in November.  The date of celebration changed several times until an official declaration in 1957.  On January 31st of that year, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed:  "A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed - to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October."

I celebrated my first Canadian Thanksgiving at a friends home, enjoying good food and good company, pretty much in keeping with how I would usually spend American Thanksgiving.  It's a good thing I did too - given the fact that Thursday, November 24th will find me sitting in classroom, rather than around the dinner table!

Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want

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