Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yes, you read that right. Today is Thanksgiving in Canada (the True North, Strong and Free).

In an odd way I feel as though I've come full circle, in that it was the third Thursday of November last year when I received the dossier request from Queen's. I was in the full heat of cooking -- I usually roast farm-raised game hens, instead of turkey; it's much easier, you can do more with them, and everyone gets to carve their own bird -- when, on a fluke, I checked my e-mail. When I saw "dossier request" on the subject line, I thought, "Whuh? What school would order a dossier on Thanksgiving?! Is this a test?" And panicked: "How am I ever going to reply punctually, what with birds in the oven, guests downstairs, and my hands pasted with giblets?" Then ohhhhh, it's that Canadian university I fancied. Silly Canadians, they celebrate Thanksgiving in October.

Little did I know that I'd be here contemplating how we should celebrate it today (coz -- not to sound like Oprah, but -- you can never have too many opportunities to be thankful).

I played the mock-ugly American in my classes all last week, needling my students about "Thanksgiving on a Monday" (!?) and how it can possibly be Thanksgiving if there's no football game to watch. Of course, I've also been probing them about how Thanksgiving here differs from ours in the States. Interestingly, there's no arch-narrative everybody recites on cue. My U.S. readers likely remember many elementary school days devoted to the "story of the Pilgrims," how they "escaped religious persecution" for "freedom in the New World," and, btw, didn't have the slightest idea how to make popcorn. That narrative has changed in recent years, as awareness and appreciation of the Native American populations has gathered more space in standard-issue textbooks (though I imagine that most first graders are still making pilgrim hats and Indian feather head-dresses . . .).

Three themes have emerged in my quasi-research on Canadian Thanksgiving: 1. "Turkey." 2. "We have a different harvest season." and 3., most interestingly, an account that, prompted by my inquiries, one of my seminar students sent me -- we call her "Itchy," she watches the clock for me so I don't go over time -- about the occasion for the first Canadian Thanksgiving (this from one "Steve Holland"):

The first Thanksgiving was observed around 1578. Martin Frobisher, an English navigator who was searching for the Spice Islands, landed on Baffin Island. He established a settlement and held the first ceremony of thanksgiving in what is now Newfoundland. The celebration was to give thanks for surviving the long sea journey. As other settlers arrived, they continued these thanksgiving celebrations.

Note, of course, that the 1578 date puts the first Canadian Thanksgiving some 43 years before the first "American" one in 1621. And it's nice to know that English navigators were as lame with a map as the Portuguese ones were (i.e., where Cristobal Colon thought he found India on Hispaniola, Frobisher was looking for the Spice Islands in Newfoundland). I was excited to see Frobisher featured here -- he's on my syllabus later in the year, when we'll be reading reports of and from the "New World." But what strikes me most here is how the "thanks" being offered relates to the voyagers' hardiness in having survived the rough elements, their physical resilience and ability to endure. I might be informed otherwise (Q-link?), but the emphasis on fortitude strikes me as characteristically Canadian (versus the "holier than thou" chronicle with which we're indoctrinated in the U.S.).

Well, anyone who's read my blog recently knows that we found it tough to settle here ourselves, even if careless drywallers and lackadaisacal moving companies made up the rough elements we had to endure. We are grateful to be here, however, and are especially thankful for both old and new friends. Have a happy one, wherever you reside.

P.S. I'll be grilling some organic turkey legs -- the big Henry VIII ones -- with glazed parsnips, p & c, my own stuffing recipe, and mashed sweet potato with rosemary. . . and punkin pie! Can never have too many opportunities to eat punkin pie! (Now that sounds like Oprah. . .)

Have a great day.


Sean Carter said...

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uncle mike said...

turkey! YUM!

Anonymous said...

grandpa's stuffing, mrs anderson's twnty pound quadruple chocolate cakes! thanksgiving!

uncle mike said...

that was me