For those of you who didn't pay attention in Mrs. Mangione’s 8th grade Social Studies class, history tells us that in 1578, English explorer Martin Frobisher hosted the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America. (Using the word ‘first’ is a little like using the word ‘best,’ but for our purposes, we’ll stick with Mrs. Mangione’s story.) Following a dicey journey through the Northwest Passage, Frobisher and his fellow explorers had plenty of reasons to be thankful. As they gathered to celebrate their good fortune in simply being alive, it is doubtful that anyone noticed the lack of Martha-inspired kraft paper/raffia tablescape accents. It is also worth noting that Frobisher and his guests were probably not peppering their dinner conversation with mention of Black Friday sales.
Traditionally, American Thanksgiving conjures images of bountiful harvests, tall black hats with gold buckles, turkey legs, and long lines snaking round Best Buy just before midnight. Not so a little further north. Granted, the early years of Canadian Thanksgiving were a little Plymouth-rocky. Folks took their time getting acquainted with the holiday, celebrating it casually, sporadically in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was more of a day of reflection, appreciating the blessings bestowed upon individuals and their country. T-Day wasn’t celebrated in Canada nationally until 1879. For a while, Canada attempted a two-for-one approach to the festivities, combining it with Armistice Day. (You remember Armistice Day, right? November 11th, commemorating the signing of the armistice ending World War I in 1918.) Even more curious, Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated nationally, but can be legislated at the provincial and territorial levels. In Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, Turkey Day is optional. Those who work the holiday are compensated with both overtime and a bounty of leftovers courtesy of their stay-at-home co-workers. Which begs the question, what’s on the Canadian Thanksgiving menu?
Canadians have their eye on our November holiday when they gather around their Thanksgiving dinner tables. Yes, there’s probably a stuffed turkey and sweet potatoes and yes, dessert will probably feature a pumpkin pie. In some households new to Canadian Thanksgiving by way of Seattle, I understand turkey was not on the table and the ‘other’ white meat was, tip to tail. (All the more reason for certain individuals to consider a jaunt to the Garden State some time in November, B. Gray, but no pressure.)
For those so inclined, casual football viewing is available on Canadian television after that last smidgen of pumpkin pie has been consumed. However, no one is jumping up from the table in mass exodus, credit cards in hand, shopping mall programmed on the GPS. Black Friday shopping is far less popular in Canada. With the day after Thanksgiving falling on a Tuesday, Black Tuesday shopping just doesn’t have the same ring to it as its American counterpart. Canada’s biggest shopping day mirrors the UK, falling on the day after Christmas, commonly known as Boxing Day. Providing the perfect opportunity to return all of those less-than-desired holiday gifts back to the store in late December, this frees up the 3-day Thanksgiving weekend. With nary a word from Al Roker nor a single helium-inflated balloon hovering overhead, Canadians are known to get out of the house on Thanksgiving Day to enjoy October’s mild weather. This does wonders for shortening the lounging-on-the-couch-food-coma-recovery time, which probably offers some substantial health benefits. We could take a lesson.
From where I stand filling a freezer with stacks of pie shells, the most fascinating aspect of Canadian Thanksgiving is the casualness of it all. There’s plenty of gathering and celebrating, but it is not uncommon for people to stay local-ish. The craziness of travel by air/car/train/bus that we associate with Thanksgiving is toned down several notches. Which is why I’m a firm advocate for scattering Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas throughout the year. No good can possibly come from lumping all of these holidays together in one exhausting pie-consuming cookie-decorating frenzy. If we start right now, we can adjust our calendars. This would mean that I’m terribly sorry, (Canadian accent on the word ‘sorry’) but Thanksgiving was last Monday.
Once again, it’s Canada for the win, eh?