Thanksgiving Day

Given that it is a holiday in Canada I thought it was a good time for some reflections on the day. This is an edited version of my first Thanksgiving post from 2014.

Following a Canadian tradition that goes back to English explorer Martin Frobisher in 1578, Canadians today are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

The American holiday of the same name, held in late November, gets all the attention now, especially for the shopping orgy that accompanies it. However, consumerism wasn’t on Frobisher’s mind when he and his crew held the first Thanksgiving observance in the New World 43 years before the more celebrated American Pilgrim event.

French explorer Samuel de Champlain, in 1604 in what is now known as Nova Scotia, also held a Thanksgiving ceremony, an event I remember learning about in third grade: the Order of Good Cheer. No trips to the shopping mall for that one either.

As a national holiday, Thanksgiving in Canada has moved around a bit, being celebrated on various days in October and November until being settled in 1957 as the second Monday of October. Which makes sense when you think of it. In October we can celebrate and be thankful for the harvest. At the end of November, when the Americans celebrate, Canadians are facing possible blizzards and are in a less than thankful mood.

Like many of our holidays, Thanksgiving has lost touch with its roots. Nobody asks anymore, to whom are we giving thanks, why and for what?

Today the Act of Parliament that created the holiday would be worded much differently. In these politically correct days “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed” isn’t likely to be accepted by much of our population, or at least by the political class.

In 1957 there is no doubt that Parliamentarians intended the reference to “Almighty God” to be to the Christian God (or as Christians would emphasize, the only true God). Nowadays there would be too much fear of causing offense to Muslims and others to do that, not to mention lengthy debates in Parliament to determine just what or who is God in Canadian society today. I’d like to hear such debates. I think God would be amused.

Despite there being not much faith attached to Thanksgiving anymore, most Canadians are thankful today. It is a holiday – no work or school for most people. Families gather for a celebratory meal. Most years at least. This year, with COVID-19 on the upswing, people are being told to stay at home.

Most Canadians talk about there being a separation of church and state, which is an American concept that has spread to the north without any real basis in law or even tradition. While we do not have a state church, our head of state is also head of a major Christian church. On paper anyway there certainly isn’t much separation. The idea though is that government does not get involved in religion, and certainly doesn’t favor one religion over another.

Unless of course you consider anti-religion to be a religion. It certainly seems in recent years that both the political class and the media

It is a strange situation. We live in an increasingly secular, multicultural and multi-ethnic culture, but our holidays (holy days) have religious roots, specifically Christian ones. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, even Remembrance Day have Christian origins, though they may no longer be celebrated in the way that was originally conceived.

I am surprised someone hasn’t taken the issue on and launched a lawsuit to have our holidays abolished, or at least renamed. Or perhaps those people of different or no religious tradition realize that today Thanksgiving (and our other holidays) is more just a day off work than a celebration of our Christian heritage. And everybody likes a day off work.


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