It started as a feast of thanks for a good harvest, a feast to celebrate that harvest and it was an indigenous custom before the first European landed in the Americas. Some of the foods served still show up on holiday tables, including turkeys, squash, corn and pumpkins.
Both Canada and the United States celebrate Thanksgiving holidays.
There is some discussion on the first Thanksgiving celebrations. Some refer to Martin Frobisher , English sailor and privateer who made three trips searching for the legendary Northwest passage. He had a celebration of thanks in 1578. Tinned peas and canned beef doesn’t really sound too festive, but it was the first European Thanksgiving in the new world.
It wasn’t just the British settlers that celebrated Thanksgiving. In New France (now Quebec) a celebration was hosted by Samuel de Champlain in Port-Royal on Nov. 14, 1606. This saw Europeans and Indigenous peoples breaking bread together.
In some of the New England colonies in 1607 feasts were held to celebrate Thanksgiving, 14 years before the 1621 Pilgrim Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving was also brought north with Loyalists who left the United States and came up to the British Colonies.
The first Thanksgiving proclamation was issued in 1789 by President George Washington. It was to celebrate the end of the revolutionary war and the successful ratification of the US constitution.
In the early 1800’s several states adopted a Thanksgiving holiday but on different days.
Sometimes it takes a woman’s touch to advocate for a national holiday. Sarah Josepha Hale was that lady. Hale was a well known author who wrote the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
In 1827 she launched a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. For 36 years, she raised awareness with multiple editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians, earning her the nickname the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”
In 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared the first Thanksgiving at the height of the Civil War. The last Thursday in November was chosen for the date and Thanksgiving was celebrated on that day until 1939 when FDR moved the date up by a week. That move didn’t gain much support and led to the nickname Franksgiving. In 1941 the date was moved back to the last Thursday in November.
In Canada the holiday was first celebrated in 1859. It was organized at the urging of leaders of the Protestant clergy and the holiday was intended for the “public and solemn” recognition of God’s mercies.
The first Thanksgiving after Confederation in Canada was April 5, 1872. A national civic holiday was held to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from an illness.
Thanksgiving was first observed as an annual event in Canada on 6 November 1879. The date for each of the following years was determined annually by Parliament. The holiday occurred as late in the year as 6 December and even coincided several times with American Thanksgiving. The most popular date to observe Thanksgiving was the third Monday in October, when the fall weather is generally still amenable to outdoor activities.
In 1921 Thanksgiving in Canada and Armistice Day were celebrated on the same day the first Monday in the week of November 11th.
That was changed in 1931 with Parliament changing November 11th into Armistice Day (now Remembrance Day) and in Canada Thanksgiving was moved to the second Monday in October. On January 31, 1957 Parliament made it official designating the second Monday as Thanksgiving Day.
In both Canada and the US Thanksgiving has come to signify the uniting of friends and family and celebrating that bond. One of the major components of this celebrations is the food served.
The food may vary in different locations but some staples are common. Turkey is served on most tables, as is stuffing, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
After Thanksgiving the countdown to the Christmas shopping season begins. FDR would probably approve of another evolution of Thanksgiving Black Friday. This has become one of the busiest shopping days in the year and Thanksgiving seems to signal the start of the Christmas shopping season. Now shopping has evolved into the digital world with Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving. That day savvy internet shoppers cruise the web looking for bargains.
The excitement and deals coming out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday attract many Canadians. Many went south bargain hunting. This trend led to Canadian merchants beginning to offer Black Friday discounts to compete. Canadian Thanksgiving may be in October, but Canadians are excited for Black Friday, giving thanks for the bargains.
Willa Condy was born and raised in the West Kootenay. She is married, lives in Trail with her “better half” and their dog Roxy. Willa is part of the baby boom and loves photography, music, writing and having fun.