The power of US cultural dominance often leaks through into other countries, often to the confusion, and sometimes detriment, of those countries’ own cultures and experiences—particularly when it comes to historical interpretation of celebrations.
As we dig into the leftovers from this past Monday’s holiday meal, we might do well to reflect on a few Canadian thoughts.
The first Thanksgiving celebrations in North America took place when most of the people living in our region referred to this continent as Turtle Island. The Indigenous inhabitants gave thanks to the harvest season long before any Europeans even dreamed of this vast and bountiful land.
The first Europeans to celebrate a day of thanksgiving were not the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock who figure so prominently in the American foundation mythology. That particular historical marker goes to Sir Martin Frobisher, as he and his crew are credited as the first Europeans to celebrate a Thanksgiving ceremony in North America in 1578.
The next group of Europeans to bow their heads in prayer to the Creator were the inhabitants of New France under Samuel de Champlain in 1606. The Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving in what they termed the New World didn’t take place until 1621. Not only were those icons of (white) American cultural identity literally thousands of years behind the first peoples of this land in offering thanks for the bounty of the growing season, they were also pretty much Johnny-come-latelies when it comes to the settler celebrations. So why do we let that image define our Thanksgiving?
This is a time, as leaves turn from various shades of green to a multifarious riot of colours, to remind us to look around at all that for which we should be thankful. Thanksgiving is not a celebration of colonial dominance. In truth, thanksgiving has been a component of many cultures and, as a celebration, it far predates the arrival of Christianity to Turtle Island, even for those who follow the Book of Mormon.
So, no matter however, whatever and to whomever one decides to give thanks for the bounties that enrich our lives, the Canadian Thanksgiving should be a time we come together to realize that, in the grand scheme of the global division of resources, we as Canadians all have much reason to give thanks.
Certainly there are many who have less than others, and the gap between the rich and the poor is steadily growing in this nation, but we still enjoy a much smaller gap than those who count the Pilgrims among their forebearers. Those pilgrims were refugees, fleeing the intolerance and discrimination they faced in their English homeland and they were welcomed (and by all accounts aided and supported) by the peoples who inhabited this land before them.
Perhaps in our own national narrative, especially in these times of a seeming growing intolerance, Canadians old and new should reflect on how much we and our ancestors owe to those who now share their land with us. Then, following that reflection, we should as a nation give thanks to our hosts because it is the polite thing for a guest to do.