by Maj (ret'd) CORNELIU E. CHISU, CD, PMSC,
FEC, CET, P. Eng.
Former Member of Parliament Pickering-Scarborough East
The air is getting colder, the pumpkins are getting bigger, and the trees are beginning to turn more beautiful as their foliage turns colorful with the onset of the Canadian Fall. As we approach our Thanksgiving this year, it is important to reflect on where and why this traditional celebration has come to be. It holds a special place in our hearts, and gives each of us the opportunity to take a moment in which we give thanks for what we have, and consider those who have less.
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this year we are confronted with many serious issues: social, political and economic. Despite all the problems that we have today, the one beacon of hope we can surely aspire to, is to celebrate Thanksgiving with our immediate family, taking all the commonsense heath precautions. While it may not be easy this year, taking time to be grateful for the simple things in life is even more important.
It is true the Covid-19 pandemic has put a strain on our day to day relations, but I hope it is also true that we will come out of this pandemic stronger in our beliefs and in our humanity.
Let us transition for a moment to the positive in our lives and try to celebrate and reflect on the full meaning of the Thanksgiving celebration as we enjoy it with our family. We can all use a little serenity in our lives these days, when we are faced with negativity on all fronts.
So let us briefly look at the history of our Canadian Thanksgiving.
First of all let us consider the meaning of Thanksgiving. It is the celebration of being thankful for what one has and the bounty of the previous year. It is deeply rooted in our countries' (Canada and US) early history and traditions. For many Canadians this long weekend really kicks off the autumn season. People across the country will spend it raking leaves, harvesting, shutting down the family cabin, and hopefully eating a delicious meal surrounded by friends and family.
The fact that we in Canada celebrate Thanksgiving earlier, has been attributed to the earlier onset of winter in the North, thus ending the harvest season earlier. Thanksgiving in Canada did not have a fixed date until the late 19th century.
According to historians, the first celebration of Thanksgiving in North America occurred during the 1578 voyage of Martin Frobisher from England in search of the Northwest Passage.
The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are also sometimes traced to the French settlers who came to New France in the 17th century, and celebrated their successful harvests. The French settlers in the area typically had feasts at the end of the harvest season and continued throughout the winter season, even sharing food with the indigenous peoples of the area.
As settlers arrived in Nova Scotia from New England after 1700, late autumn Thanksgiving celebrations became commonplace. New immigrants into the country, such as the Irish, Scottish, and Germans, also added their own traditions to the harvest celebrations. Most of the US aspects of Thanksgiving (such as the turkey) were incorporated into our Canadian Thanksgiving rituals when United Empire Loyalists began to flee from the United States during the American Revolution and settled in Canada.
Prior to Canadian Confederation, many of the individual colonial governors of the Canadian provinces had declared their own days of Thanksgiving. The first official Canadian Thanksgiving occurred on April 15, 1872, when the nation was celebrating the Prince of Wales' recovery from a serious illness.
By the end of the 19th century, Thanksgiving Day was normally celebrated on November 6th. However, when World War I ended, the Armistice Day holiday was usually held during the same week. To prevent the two holidays from clashing with one another, in 1957 the Canadian Parliament proclaimed Thanksgiving to be observed on its present date on the second Monday of October.
On January 31, 1957, the Governor General of Canada, Vincent Massey, issued a proclamation stating:
"A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed - to be observed on the second Monday in October."
In preparing the roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, various autumn vegetables (mainly various kinds of squashes but also Brussels sprouts), and pumpkin pie we need to reflect on the fact that we are blessed to live in Canada and we need to uphold the values and traditions this country was founded on. Those treasured values have drawn many people to settle in this country with the dream of having individual freedom, respect, fairness and responsibility guaranteed for all. Let's continue to build Canada together for a better future.
We also need to remember that this year our Thanksgiving celebrations are marred by a pandemic and we need to be safe, keeping our family and friends safe. Nevertheless, we will do well to think positive and celebrate.
Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!