Saturday, October 10, 2009
Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!!!!
Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday in Canada until January 31st, 1957; when Parliament proclaimed that the 2nd Monday in October would "be a Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed".
That doesn't mean that Canadians never thanked the higher power or powers in the past for bountiful harvests; only that this was the first recognition of the day we now celebrate as Thanksgiving Day
There is one aspect of North American culture that really gets on my last nerve, and that is this obsession with being "first" and finding the "first". All too often in their quest to determine who was number one, they lose sight of what was really important. That being said, many have credited Martin Frobisher with holding the first Thanksgiving, when in 1578 he held a feast to thank God for his safe landing at Newfoundland.
However, the Canadian people were holding thanksgiving feasts thousands of years before he ever arrived, so we certainly know that he was not the first; and besides, who cares? Saying "Thank God we didn't drown", has absolutely nothing to do with the way that we celebrate Thanksgiving, and Martin Frobisher's accomplishments belong with navigational history and exploration; not agriculture. The farmer is slighted enough.
In France, even before the arrival of French immigrants to Canada; an annual event took place giving thanks for a good harvest.
This practice was continued with the early French settlers who would hold feasts of "thanksgiving", inspired by similar and frequent celebrations that took place in most native communities; both before and after the harvest. The Acadians took it one step further and every year would hold a party and dance in honour of their aboriginal neighbours, to thank them for their help during the lean times, and for being such gracious hosts to their ancestors when they first arrived in the country.
The first traditional style of celebrating Thanksgiving began with a fall festival known as The Harvest Home. It was usually celebrated on a weekday, though churches would often hold them on a Sunday, when the altar, columns, window ledges and archways were decorated with autumn fruits and vegetables. In some communities the local women even placed some of their finest baking in the display. After the Thanksgiving Service, there would be a community dinner consisting of large pots of baked beans, meat pies, fruit pies, squash, turnips, home-made pickles and salads. After dinner the men would go to the rectory to talk and smoke (no football games to watch), while the children played games and the women strolled about gossiping, exchanging wisdom and offering advice. By late afternoon, the congregation disbanded, though often the festivities were simply moved to their own homes. Sunday was always thought to be the best day for courting or "sparking", so no doubt many young couples began their romantic liaisons at a Harvest Home. From this event emerged the Agricultural Fall Fair, where the ladies from the local church would display their baking, preserves, and hand made articles. The events generally lasted all day and included competitions like log sawing or rolling; races and greased pole climbs. The first charity bazaar is believed to have been held by Lady Colborne, wife of the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada in 1830. This became an annual event when all of the affluent women donated various "pretty toys", which were sold to raise money to clothe the poor, and purchase red flannel to make undergarments for the less fortunate. The women would make a party of it and often pressured their male acquaintances into purchasing items they probably didn't need or want. At least one etiquette book of the day frowned on the practice: "If you have a table at a fair, use no unladylike means to obtain buyers. Never appear so beggarly as to retain the change, if a larger amount is presented than the price, offer the change promptly, when the gentleman will be at liberty to donate it if he thinks best, and you may accept with thanks. He is under no obligation to make such a donation". Possibly the first "Thanksgiving Day" of note was proclaimed in Halifax in 1763; after the Peace of Paris ceded Canada to Britain. In Ontario there is mention of a Thanksgiving Day on June 18, 1816, celebrating the English victory over Napoleon, but again these were not really anything like the "bountiful harvest" that the day is meant to honour.
By 1879, taking the lead from Sara Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book; the annual event was officially named the Fall Festival and began with the traditional turkey shoot.
The cornucopia, which originated in Greek Mythology as the Horn of Amalthea, a symbol of prosperity; was later adopted as a symbol of the event. A curved goat's horn would be filled with vegetables, fruits and grains, which also became known as a "horn of plenty", and though actual goat's horns are rarely used anymore, the cornucopia is recognized by many cultures as representing a "bountiful harvest".