Monday, October 11, 2010

Today’s Holiday: Which One Are You Celebrating?

For some folks, today is the Monday holiday that is known as Columbus Day (observed).  The Post Office and the banks are closed. Sales abound throughout the United States, from mall to shining mall.

For some of us, however, this is the Monday that is the conclusion of the weekend better known as “Canadian Thanksgiving”. Or, for those living mostly north of the 49th parallel**, it is simply known as “Thanksgiving”.

Folks who live mostly south of that 49th parallel** might think that the Canadian version of Thanksgiving is simply some kind of Johnny-come-lately, copy-cat holiday, but they would be dead wrong.  Granted, the act of Parliament that fixed the “second Monday in October” date of “Thanksgiving” in Canada dates only from 1957, but the holiday itself is much earlier than that. 

For years, the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada occurred in early November (November 6th): in fact, the Thanksgiving holiday and the Remembrance Day observation (that’s the commemoration of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - when that War To End All Wars ended - , in some places known as “Armistice Day”) often occurred in the same week.  Parliamentary action in Ottawa changed all that.

Folks in the United States celebrate their Thanksgiving holiday in late November. Their festivities are all wrapped up in the Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, Indians, succotash, cranberry sauce, turkey and the harvest of 1621. “American” Thanksgiving has a decided New England feel to it, even though there are parts of what is now the United States that were settled by Europeans long before the Pilgrims. These folks also had celebratory “Thanksgivings.”

They were not English-speaking Anglo-Saxon Protestants, however.
Sir Martin Frobisher

For example, the good Spanish Catholic folks who settled in St. Augustine, Florida celebrated a similar day of thanks on September 8, 1565, several generations before the Pilgrims left Leiden. Then there was the celebration of Thanksgiving on April 30, 1598 held by Don Juan de Oñate and 400 colonists about 25 miles south of what is now El Paso, Texas.

For Canadians, the commemoration of Thanksgiving dates back to 1578, the year in which explorer Martin Frobisher held the first thanksgiving ceremony in Newfoundland to commemorate his survival of a perilous sea voyage. This, too, is a touch earlier than the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner: The Winthrops Meet the Wampanoags” event in Plymouth in 1621, but nearly completely unknown south of Canada.

If you’re celebrating Columbus Day, don’t forget that Christopher Columbus never actually set foot on any of the territory that is now known as the United States.  Moreover,  there is evidence that Columbus and his crew introduced syphilis to the indigenous residents of North America, all the while observing in his logbook that they (the natives) could be subjugated with a small number of  Spanish soldiers and would likely make fine servants (i.e., slaves).

Oh, brave new world!

No matter what today means for you personally in 2010, please have a happy and healthy one.  Personally, I never met a food holiday I didn’t like, so it’s hard to pass up on the idea of two (count ‘em, 2) Thanksgivings in the same year.

Besides, everybody knows that St. Brendan of Clonfert discovered the New World when he ventured forth in his leather boat from the west of Ireland during the 6th century. Then there was Leif...

** Yes, I know that three of the Maritime Provinces are actually south of the 49th parallel, but the term “49th parallel”  has served for years as the shorthand for the US-Canadian border, so, why mess with success?

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