It’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Although we often complain, Canadians are generally a thankful group of people. We appreciate all of the same things Americans appreciate about lives, but we just do it a few weeks earlier.
The origins of the holiday here are difficult to define. Our indigenous people didn’t allegedly rescue starving Puritans by cooking a big turkey dinner for them. Some of the idea of Thanksgiving from the U.S. did however spillover into Canada because of British Loyalists who resettled there after the American Revolution. More recently, U.S. popular culture has influenced Thanksgiving in Canada with food and football.
For decades, the holiday in Canada was observed rather unofficially at varying times in October. In Quebec, where it’s called action de grace (literally, the “action of grace”), Thanksgiving has never been much of a big deal. Recently a supermarket flyer showed up in my mailbox advertising sales on “Thanksgiving favorites” like wieners and cold cuts—not turkey and pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving wasn’t even an official holiday until 1957 when Parliament passed a motion proclaiming “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.” That proclamation even speaks to a much more agrarian and religious time in Canada. More Canadians were farmers or lived in rural areas. It was a given that the Almighty God was the Christian one the majority of the country still worshiped in church on Sunday. Past editions of the Anglican (Episcopal) hymnal had a section titled Harvest Thanksgiving.
Churches of all varieties usually end up emphasizing Thanksgiving somehow in the Sunday service. Often, churches are decorated with an abundance of corn stalks, pumpkins and other gourds, and other garden produce as an expression of thanks for a good harvest. This is even done in urban churches, where the decorative produce ironically comes from a supermarket and not the fields or gardens of parishioners. Thanksgiving shouldn’t be an exclusively Christian domain though. Every other religion has a strong element of thankfulness in it too. That reality is more applicable in today’s Canada, along with being thankful for the basics of family, friends, freedom, and safety.
Since the weather is always a bit warmer for Thanksgiving in Canada than it is for the American version in November, we often celebrate it differently. It’s a fall weekend in the woods for campers and cottagers. For years now, my family has gone camping for the weekend. We’re very thankful for travel trailers and campsites with electrical service for heat and light though, too. Camping on Thanksgiving is so popular in Ontario that many of the provincial parks are completely full for the weekend. Some parks even have early Halloween events where children trick or treat, trailer to trailer. At our camp, pumpkins get carved into jack-o-lanterns, and a turkey dinner is still enjoyed by family and friends under kitchen shelters and tarps. The simplicity of the outdoors brings perspective to being thankful for the simple things in life.
Canadians in eastern Ontario and southern Quebec are thankful for North Country Public Radio, too! It’s fall fundraiser time at NCPR, so why not show your thanks by making a donation?