It’s time to talk turkey and learn the real truth and deep, dark secrets behind everyone’s second favourite October holiday (sorry, Thanksgiving, but Halloween’s got you beat). Let’s take a look at how we got the day called Thanksgiving.
A lot of people think that the holiday is just a Canadian version of American Thanksgiving, but the Canadian celebration actually happened 40 years before the American pilgrims had their dinner. In 1578 the British explorer, and occasional pirate, Martin Frobisher held a feast of thanksgiving in Newfoundland. Frobisher was giving thanks that he and, well, most of his crew had come back from a rough trip through the Arctic looking for the Northwest Passage. After storms and cold and getting lost, Frobisher was sorry he hadn’t found the Passage but very happy to be alive. This meal likely wasn’t too tasty, coming out of ships’ storage mostly salted beef and mushy peas, but it started a tradition of being grateful for what food they had.
Painting at right: “Sir Martin Frobisher,” 1577 by Cornelis Ketel
From 1606 onwards, Samuel de Champlain followed the custom of First Nations harvest festivals and held feasts in the colony of New France attended by French settlers and local Mi’kmaq people. Official celebrations of Thanksgiving moved around a lot – once the day was held in the spring in 1816 to celebrate the end of a war between Britain and France – before becoming an annual Canadian holiday in 1879. Even then it was usually held in the first week of November, often celebrated along with Remembrance Day from the 1920s onwards. Finally in 1957, Parliament settled on making Thanksgiving officially happen every year on the second Monday in October.
There’s no required way to celebrate Thanksgiving, but it usually involves a big meal with family and friends at some point over the long weekend. Since the meal happens in the fall, it usually features food that’s around in the autumn, like pumpkins, squash and potatoes. American Thanksgiving is known for being very serious about their Thanksgiving foods and the tradition of having turkey for dinner is one that has crossed the border. It comes out of the old English custom of eating a big goose for special meals, but since the turkey is native to North America, it stepped up and took the goose’s place on the plate with over 3 million birds getting served each year.
In Québec the holiday is called Action de Grâce and usually doesn’t involve a big dinner. However you celebrate the day, it’s a good time to take a moment to look around and think about what you’re thankful for. It could be your food or your house or the people around you – or just having a day off school in October!