Sunday, October 08, 2006

Canadian Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian brothers and sisters.

Did you know that the modern day version of Canada's Thanksgiving is a triumph of democracy and equality over religious intolerance and elitism? Professor Peter A. Stevens of York University, Toronto wrote a brilliant paper titled "Cross-Border Culture: Holidays, Nationalism, and the Origins of the Canadian Thanksgiving."

In his paper, Professor Stevens points out that Thanksgiving in Canada can be traced back to Ontario in the mid 1880s. Protestant church leaders decided to 'borrow' the American tradition of Thanksgiving, but they wished to turn Thanksgiving into a nationalistic, religious event which excluded non-Protestants (particularly Catholics), the working class, the poor, and many minority groups. This approach eventually failed.

They did not simply duplicate the American Thanksgiving festival. Church leaders, particularly after the 1867 Confederation, felt it their moral and historical duty to shape the Canadian identity in their particular world view and they saw the adoption of the Thanksgiving holiday as a way to do this. They created the Canadian Thanksgiving as an exclusively religious event that was white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, pro-British and often anti-American in nationalist intent.

The Protestant clergy successfully lobbied the Canadian government to create Canada's first, national Thanksgiving in 1859. But it was only proclaimed sporadically in the ensuing years, as church, state and commerce each wrestled for control of the holiday. By the 1870s, American holiday traditions, such as family gatherings for turkey dinner and stories of the pilgrims, took hold in Canada, creating both commercial opportunities for businesses, and a way for Catholics to celebrate the day as a non-religious event. With this, the Protestant clergy lost exclusive control of Thanksgiving Day. They lost all influence over the holiday in 1908, when the government appointed Thanksgiving for a Monday rather than a Thursday. Transportation companies had asked for the change, feeling that a long weekend would increase holiday travel. Protestant Churches opposed the move, fearing that it would hurt church attendance. In 1957, the Canadian Parliament passed legislation to make Thanksgiving an annual holiday celebrated on the second Monday of October, eliminating the need for annual proclamations.

"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."

To Protestant clergymen, the early history of Thanksgiving is, perhaps, a tragedy, since they lost control over the holiday. From another perspective, it is a story of triumph. Catholics and other non-Protestant Christians, workers, non-Christians, ethnic minorities and other groups excluded from the clergy's notions of Thanksgiving and Canadian identity democratized the holiday and adopted their own holiday practices, asserting that they, too, had something to contribute to Canadian society and culture.

Muslim, Jewish and Baha'i youth make 2,000 sandwiches to feed needy people in Vancouver, BC, Canada during 2005 Canadian Thanksgiving.

Forest pool, near Calabogie, ON

Thank God for technology: Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Dempsey holds up the armor that saved his life. He was shot in the back by an insurgent while conducting operations in the Anbar province. (Photo U.S. Marine Corps) The story.

Navy Seaman Samuel L. Blanco, a hospital corpsman, hangs with Iraqi children during a recent patrol in Husayba, Iraq.

Canadian and American soldiers cross a ravine while providing heavy security for the visit of BGen David Fraser, Commander of Multi-National Brigade South during his tour of an area controlled by Canadian and other allied forces in the Panjwaii District west of Kandahar City as part of Op MEDUSA (Photo by: Sgt Lou Penney)

Bombardier (BDR) Theodore Zaremba with the 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (2 RCHA) based out of CFB Petawawa protects his face as a Black Hawk helicopter lifts off from the Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) at Patrol Base Wilson (PBW). Black Hawk helicopters continuously fly missions throughout the Panjwaii District of Afghanistan in support of Op MEDUSA. (Photo by: Sgt Lou Penney)

“Patriotism, I now believe, isn't some sentimental, old conceit. It's self-preservation.” -- Frank Miller


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