Thanksgiving’s sordid past

By in Opinions

Opinions Editor

This weekend, a large number of us will be travelling home to join family members in that wonderful holiday known to most as Thanksgiving and to the rest of us as “that day when we eat turkey and watch football.”

When most Canadians think of Thanksgiving they probably think of 17th century pilgrims, turkeys and the harvest.
click to enlarge
Or they, like me, may think of their elementary school days when drawing hand turkeys was the primary indicator that Thanksgiving was fast approaching, all the while never quite understanding why our neighbours to the south celebrate their Thanksgiving a month later.

Never before did I take the time to understand the discrepancy myself. I only just grew curious about the holiday after my friend’s American professor tried to convince his class that they were confused about when Thanksgiving was. Oops.

Thank goodness Wikipedia could tell me the difference between the two Thanksgivings.

Perhaps I am ignorant but I did not know that our Thanksgiving had begun after an explorer named Martin Frobisher successfully returned from a dangerous journey in search of that ever-elusive Northwest Passage.

A little less “Thank you for the bountiful harvest,” and more “Thank fucking God we made it!”

The reason that Canadians hold the typical American Thanksgiving ideal so close to our hearts is thanks to the British loyalists who left the States after the American Revolution and brought with them their own Thanksgiving customs.

Later on, after the First World War, Thanksgiving was observed with Armistice Day, which was to later become Remembrance Day.

Then, finally, in 1957 Parliament declared a general Thanksgiving to be observed on the second Monday in October.

Good thing our government stepped in and took a stand for Canadian uniqueness: “Hey let’s celebrate this same holiday a month before America. Finally, we’ll have beaten them to something!”

I am a little disappointed that the Thanksgiving I’m celebrating is some hand-me-down, mutated version of the American Thanksgiving

Since we borrowed and then bastardized the American holiday I now understand why I associate Thanksgiving with colouring giant, funny-looking men with buckles on their hats and why the name “Plymouth” seems so eager to escape my lips at this time of year. I feel as though my elementary school teachers skimmed over the details of our Thanksgiving celebration to focus on more important things, like crafts and pie.

I am a little disappointed that the Thanksgiving I’m celebrating is some hand-me-down, mutated version of the American Thanksgiving instead of the Canadian celebration of northern perseverance and bravery that it could have been if we were taught Frobisher’s story rather than being forced to draw hand-turkeys for all eternity (see attached graphic).

When I asked some friends, I found that most of them automatically proclaimed turkey to be their primary association with Thanksgiving. Other things were football, fall and family. No one could tell me just how it came to be that Canadians celebrated the holiday a month before our American counterparts.

For those of you who also did not know the reason, now you can say that the creation of the holiday here in Canada was the conglomeration of American customs and Canadian susceptibility to those customs.

Hopefully, in the future Canadian children can carry on happily drawing hand-turkeys while also knowing the true history of Thanksgiving.

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graphic Holly Culp