Every year we sit at the table with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, a traditional day to give thanks to God for the harvest that has come to an end, by sharing a meal that usually includes turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and many other dishes and desserts.
Why do we Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October? That’s the first question we might hear from our American friends, surprised that we do not celebrate on the third week of November as they do. As you might know, our American neighbors celebrate Thanksgiving to remember the first Pilgrims who came to America and had just ended their harvest, aided by the help of native Americans. After surviving a harsh winter, and being able to collect a plentiful harvest, they saw it fit to give thanks to God for the gifts of the land. This took place in 1621 (keep that date in mind!). Canada’s Thanksgiving has a story of its own, as you are about to read.
In Canada, Thanksgiving Day takes place on the second Monday in October. Contrary to what many of our southern neighbors think, the Canadian Thanksgiving did not originate on the American celebration, even though it has similar motives: to give thanks to God for the benefits received. Celebrations at the end of the harvest were present among native peoples long before European settlers came to Canada. Thanksgiving became a tradition, however, when the English explorer Martin Frobisher settled in Canada and gave thanks to God together with his crew for having survived a long journey in the Eastern Arctic. They arrived at what is today Newfoundland in 1578, which means, then, that our Thanksgiving is older than the American celebration (which dates from 1621)! Yet, it wasn’t until November 6, 1879, that Thanksgiving Day became an annual celebration in Canada. The reason is that, in the previous years, Americans fleeing the dangers of their Civil War settled in Canada and brought with them both, the tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving annually, and the recipe for the meal (an influence that is especially seen in Ontario). No wonder why the Canadian and American Thanksgiving celebrations look so similar!
Once Canada’s annual Thanksgiving Day tradition was established, it took place on different dates throughout the years. From 1879 to 1918, the date for Thanksgiving Day changed from year to year as decided by Parliament (some years it even took place as late as December 6!). At the end of the First World War (1919), it was decided by Parliament that Thanksgiving Day be celebrated on the Monday closest to November 11, which marks the anniversary of the end of the Great War. It wasn’t until 1957, then, that Thanksgiving Day was transferred to the second Monday in October, which is when we currently celebrate this day.
This year, we will gather once again with loved ones to prepare the Thanksgiving Day meal, and sit at the table grateful for another harvest that has ended, and for the many benefits we have received so far.Leave a reply →