In Canada, the second Monday in October is set aside each year as Thanksgiving Day. On that day, people give thanks with feasting and prayer for the blessings they may have received during the year. It is usually a family day, family members often travelling great distances to be with one another. Together they enjoy big dinners which traditionally include roast turkey and pumpkin pie.
Proclaimed as “a day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed,” Thanksgiving Day draws upon three traditions, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1985).
– harvest celebrations in European peasant societies, for which the symbol was the cornucopia or horn of plenty;
– formal observances, such as that celebrated by Martin Frobisher in the eastern Arctic in 1578 — the first North American Thanksgiving; and
– the Pilgrims’ celebration of their first harvest in Massachusetts (1621) involving the uniquely American turkey, squash and pumpkin.
Many of the early settlers were English. They celebrated the harvest using some of the traditions of Harvest Home, which had been celebrated for hundreds of years in England. People used to work hard in the fields each fall cutting, bundling, and gathering the grain. They ended the last day of the harvest at a big table piled high with food. They gave thanks for their supper and for the grain harvest and then feasted. At Harvest Home, people also decorated churches with grain, fruit, and vegetables that they had harvested and held special harvest services. When the service was over, the food that had been used to decorate the church was given to needy people so that everyone could enjoy the harvest blessings. Other European settlers also added their special ways of giving thanks for their harvests to the Canadian harvest celebrations.
HARVEST-HOME (Henry Alford)
Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of Harvest-home!
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter-storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of Harvest-Home!
After the American Revolution, many Loyalists moved to Canada and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving as it was observed in United States. There it began with the day of thanksgiving that the Pilgrims held to celebrate their first harvest in America. The Pilgrims were a group of English settlers who came to the New World so that they’d be able to worship God in their own way. They had a difficult voyage and winter, and by the time that spring arrived only half of the about one hundred settlers who’d sailed were still alive. however, in the spring some friendly Indians showed them how to hunt animals and catch fish, told them what berries and nuts were good to eat, and gave them some seeds and taught them how to plant and cultivate them.
When the fall came, the settlers had a good harvest. This was the time that Harvest Home was celebrated in England, and the leader of the Pilgrims decided that their first harvest should be an especially big celebration. They held a three-day festival of feasting (preceded by giving thanks for all the good things they had) and recreation. The friendly Indians contributed five deer to the feast and took part in the celebration. The custom of Thanksgiving Day spread from the Pilgrim settlement in Plymouth to the other English colonies in what is now United States.
Our Thanksgiving Day
The customs of the English (and other Europeans) and of the Loyalists helped make the Canadian Thanksgiving Day what it is today. The first annual national Thanksgiving Day as it is now observed took place on November 6, 1879. Later and earlier dates were observed. Finally, on January 31, 1957, Parliament proclaimed the observance of Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October.
Canadians customarily spend Thanksgiving Day with their families, a big turkey dinner followed by pumpkin pie being the highlight of the celebration. And, although the religious aspect of the holiday isn’t given the importance it once was, many still remember to give God special thanks for their blessings.
The above post appeared originally in the Thanksgiving 1995 issue of “The Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter.”