Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving, too. We’re very “Please” and “Thank you” people. We have turkey and sides (sometimes we call them “fixin’s”) and people travel from all over to be at the family’s gathering spot. But that’s where most of the similarities end.
Our Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October. That would be your Columbus Day or Native Aboriginals Day or whatever name you’ve given it these days. When I was growing up we called our festivities Harvest Thanksgiving and it was celebrated as a day of thanks for the bounty and blessings of the fall harvest, the end of the summer of hard work (preparing, planting, tending, haying, harvesting, etc.) and the beginning of winter when we could relax, split endless cords of wood for the kitchen stove, shovel snow and get ready for another spring. It was almost like the end of the year.
I would go with our Anglican minister in his old, grey Austin car to collect colorful fall leaves, corn stalks, pumpkins and turnips to decorate our little country church. Everyone turned up for Thanksgiving service – even those whose only other forays into the church were Christmas and Easter. Everyone would comment that the church looked lovely – even better than last year. The minister would preach an inspiring sermon of thankfulness that the harvest was plentiful, the congregants would eat for another year, and that the Duffy’s had a new Farmall tractor – for which they were very thankful.
Canadian Thanksgiving is much more down to earth and local. We don’t have any myths of modest Pilgrims and welcoming Indians all sitting around overdressed in their tall hats and underdressed in feathers. There’s nothing to live up to in our Thanksgiving. Just “Thank God we survived another year! With any kind of luck we’ll be able to do it again next year.” We looked forward to Thanksgiving.
Naturally, Canada was the first to have a real Thanksgiving Day. Credit English explorer Sir Martin Frobisher who, in 1578 in Newfoundland, gave thanks that he and his crew had landed somewhere (he wasn’t quite sure where) and hadn’t perished on the way. The Americans came along 43 years later.
Our first really official Thanksgiving Day was on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness. But, outside of looking good in a uniform and hosting elaborate parties, he wasn’t a notable monarch. A few years later we changed Thanksgiving to become a fall holiday and the dates bounced around a bit until 1957 when the current timetable was decided.
While we once looked forward to Thanksgiving, I recently read that many Canadians now view Thanksgiving as a depressing time of year. It’s the end of lawn parties, barbeques, summer holidays and sitting around at the lake. This is obviously caused by the urbanization of the country. Back on the farm we looked forward to summer much as youngsters look forward to measles inoculations. It’s hot and painful and necessary in order to live, but, given a choice, we’d just as soon skip it altogether.
We don’t have much Black Friday shopping either. Canadians have Boxing Day sales on the day after Christmas. Americans don’t.
One thing we do share with our American friends is the family dynamics around the Thanksgiving table. There’s our grumpy Uncle Phil who drinks too much and wants to hug everyone. And pert Aunt Emily who wears way too much perfume and lipstick and wants to kiss on everyone. Of course, there’s Cousin Mike who has this big job in the city and thinks that we’re way too simple and old fashioned and is only too anxious to get into the latest political argument with anyone senseless enough to join in. Don’t forget his girlfriend, Monique, who looks like she would rather be having dinner with a pack of rabid hyenas right now. It’s the usual cast you all know and love.
My American friends often ask, “What do you have at your Thanksgiving dinner?” as if we dined on something exotic and rare and uniquely Canadian.
“We like moose in our family,” I indulge their fantasy. “We usually start with jellied moose nose as an appetizer and then a nice brisket of bull moose as the entrée with potatoes, marsh greens and turnip. We might have a side of spicy pemmican, too. Dessert is always gooseberry pie. Yum! And don’t forget the homemade elderberry wine – we’ll go through a couple of jugs of that.”
They stare at me as if I’m making fun of them. “I have a great old family recipe for jellied moose nose if you’d like to try it,” I offer. “Of course, some families prefer muskrat, although I always found it a bit bland and tough.”
We do have Thanksgiving Day football on TV, though. Usually a doubleheader no less! Except for this year’s single game when the Edmonton Eskimos iced the Montreal Alouettes 42 to 24. Canadian football is somewhat different from the U.S. version. We have three downs, our field is 110 yards long (that’s 100.584 meters in case you’re on the metric scale), our players average less than C$100,000 a year, and many of them are NFL rejects. Yet, despite the differing rules and regulations and pay scales, Canadians get just as passionate about the games as Americans. We once had two teams named “Roughriders,” but we managed to get that sorted out.
One good thing about being Canadians living in the U.S. is that we get to have two Thanksgivings. Our families come to Florida in October. They’re getting their first taste of frost back home and we’re getting our first taste of relief here from the summer heat. Works for everyone.
Then we get to celebrate again with our American friends. Turkey and a dozen sides, pecan and pumpkin pies, wine, beer and football. This year we brought boiled moose hip and mashed turnips as our contribution to the meal. For some reason or other the turkey and the green bean casserole seemed to be much more popular.
John W. Prince is a Villager and a correspondent for Villages-News.com