Because Thanksgiving has always been an important part of my life, I sometimes forget that other countries do not recognize the holiday. The reason why, of course, is because Thanksgiving was a celebration established by those who came to North America from other lands as a way of showing gratitude for their blessings on this continent.
In 1578 the explorer Martin Frobisher was trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean and after surviving the long journey from England through storms and icebergs, he held a formal ceremony in Frobisher Bay to give thanks. The communion service that he had with preacher Robert Wolfall was therefore about survival and not associated with harvest. Some believe that this was the first Canadian Thanksgiving day.
Others credit the French settlers who came to New France with explorer Samuel de Champlain in the early 17th century as beginning the tradition of Thanksgiving. They had feasts at the end of the harvest and into winter which included sharing food with the indigenous people of the region.
Immigrants from other countries brought their traditions with them to North America. For example, the idea of cooking turkey or what were called guineafowls originated in Madagascar.
The United States uses the harvest celebrations of the Pilgrims which lasted for several days at Plymouth in Massachusetts in 1621 as the origin of Thanksgiving. In more recent times, a rather strange tradition has been associated with Thanksgiving. Each year, the President of the United States issues a proclamation and "pardons" the Thanksgiving turkey so that its life is spared and it can roam free.
Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October whereas the United States celebrates on the fourth Thursday of November. The day is a statutory holiday in most provinces and the original Parliamentary act mentioned God but today the holiday is mostly celebrated in a secular manner.
Think about the way that you celebrate Thanksgiving. Does it involve cooking and eating excellent food such as turkey with stuffing, fresh vegetables and pumpkin pie? Do you get together with friends or family? Is the day a time for raking leaves, cleaning house or preparing for the winter? Will you attend a church, sing hymns or read inspirational works?
Are you like Martin Frobisher who used Thanksgiving as a day to thank God for surviving trouble? Or are you more like the French settlers who see this tradition as a feast because of harvest and a way to share the bounty with other people?
You probably have developed some traditions within your own family. Some may be cultural and involve your ethnic roots while others may be connected with your spiritual beliefs or denominational values.
It really doesn't matter exactly how you celebrate as long as you remember that the reason for the holiday is to reflect on the blessings that you have had and approach the day with a grateful heart. For, you see, the name really says it all.
Happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone!