By G.D. Maxwell
In honour of Thanksgiving: Canadian Style, here’s a riddle. How do you keep a turkey in suspense? I’ll get to the answer sooner or later.
Having grown up south of the border, Canadian Thanksgiving inevitably sneaks up on me. That’s not to denigrate Canadian Thanksgiving; lots of things sneak up on me. For example, the switch to daylight savings time catches me unawares twice a year, once right around Thanksgiving just to make matters even more sneakily confusing.
Part of the sneakiness of Canadian Thanksgiving is timing; part is history. American Thanksgiving’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. For the lifetime I pursued Higher Education, American Thanksgiving was a clear and unmistakable signal to stop goofing off and start studying all the subjects I’d pretty much ignored since signing up for them in September. Final exams were less than a month away and a month of relentless study was a fair trade for a semester’s sloth.
American Thanksgiving was also the starting gun for the annual mass consumption marathon called Christmas. Thankfully that burden has now been pretty much foisted off onto Halloween, one month having become far too short a time to do Christmas – and the patriotic duty to shop – justice.
Canadian Thanksgiving, on the other hand, rolls around the second Monday in October. Timingwise, it’s an orderly, well-measured outpost between Labour Day in early September and Remembrance Day, whenever that is. Very Canadian not to bunch these things up too closely.
But the fatal flaw in Canadian Thanksgiving, the absent characteristic dooming it to forever sneak up on me, is its missing mythology. What exactly are we celebrating? A bountiful harvest? An abundance of turkeys? Why turkeys?
Of all American holidays, Thanksgiving is most blessed with mythology. Ya gotcher Pilgrims; ya gotcher Indians; ya gotcher bountiful first harvest; ya gotcher corn – my people call it maize – and ya gotcher moment of peaceful coexistence between the bucolic, self-sufficient natives and the bloodthirsty European colonizers. I like to think Squanto and the rest of the human beings left the table thinking these new neighbours weren’t so bad even if they didn’t know diddly about surviving in the wilderness.
Canadian Thanksgiving, on the other hand, was, at least officially, a celebration of the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a serious illness in 1872. No, I’m not making that up. And it was observed on April 15 th which, in Canada, marks the harvest of river ice. Since it seemed pointless to celebrate the Prince’s good health annually, April 15 th was loaned to the Americans for them to celebrate Income Tax Day and Canada started celebrating Thanksgiving in November.