The holiday was once a day for Indigenous people to celebrate making it through harsh winters… Now it is a day where we celebrate being with family and friends while enjoying their company over food and drink.
Thanksgiving may best represent what Canada is as a country.
By Craig Allan, Business Manager
This Monday will be Thanksgiving. The day where we all gather around and eat turkey, I guess. Canadian Thanksgiving is not really considered one of the marquee holidays like Christmas. People may not even consider it better than pseudo holidays like St. Patrick’s Day or the other October holiday, Halloween. Of all the holidays though, Thanksgiving may be the best holiday in Canada due to its changing traditions and what it represents.
When Canadians think of Thanksgiving, they may think of it from a very American point of view. It celebrates the landing of settlers in North America and has images of sharing a table with Indigenous people (as misrepresented as that may be). It also includes the eating of turkey and watching football, with Canadian football acting as the substitute for American football. However, Canadian Thanksgiving is very different in terms of its origin from the American version.
Canadian Thanksgiving does have an Indigenous component to it, as it was also a celebrated day in some Indigenous communities. Traditionally, it was celebrated at the end of winter as a reward to the tribe members for their hard work during the tough winter months. It was celebrated with feasts, dancing, and other ceremonies of thanks.
The first time it was celebrated by Europeans in what would later be known as Canada, was in 1578 when crew members led by English explorer Martin Frobisher celebrated arriving safely in what would later be known as Nunavut before sailing to Newfoundland by eating a meal at communion. Some consider this the first Canadian Thanksgiving, even though it occurred well before that name would ever be associated with North American holidays.
Thanksgiving in Canada wasn’t a formal holiday until 1879. Before this, the day was mostly celebrated whenever a major event happened. When it was declared as a holiday it was set for November 6. This is where it stayed until the finale of the first World War. Because of the significance of the date of November 11, the government decided to move Thanksgiving to its current second Monday in October date. This is unfortunate considering that as of 2021, the holiday now bumps up with another commemoration of loss: the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for Indigenous people who were subjected to residential schools.
While the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving may be conflated with the American Thanksgiving, the traditions are influenced by our neighbours to the South. The eating of Turkey, squash, and the watching of football of both the Canadian and American variety also occurs in Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations. The one major difference is that Canadian Thanksgiving happens in October on the second Monday, unlike American Thanksgiving which occurs on the last Thursday of November.
So, why is Canadian Thanksgiving Canada’s best holiday? I feel it is because of how the holiday has evolved. The holiday was once a day for Indigenous people to celebrate making it through harsh winters. It was also a day for sailors navigating the difficult seas to celebrate making it to the scantly mapped continent. It then became a holiday to celebrate major events and bountiful crops. Now it is a day where we celebrate being with family and friends while enjoying their company over food and drink. The fact that the holiday’s significance has changed so much over hundreds of years is a great representative of Canada. A country that changes, and like Thanksgiving, gets better as the years go by. Thanksgiving is a truly great holiday because it reflects changing traditions.
This Thanksgiving, consider adding some new traditions to your Thanksgiving celebrations. It may very well be the best way to celebrate a holiday that is more than just turkey alone.