I’m From Canada, So Thanksgiving To Me Is Just Thursday With More Food. And I’m Thankful For That.
Apparently Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated in Canada for quite some time. As far back as 1604, a few years before America’s first recognized feast, French settlers were celebrating their successful Trans-Atlantic voyages with a festive meal that included their First Nation compatriots. The holiday got a big boost during and after the American Revolution when the large influx of American refugees who remained loyal to the Crown brought their customs with them to their new home. The Canadian Thanksgiving meal thereafter took on all the traditional fixings associated with their more southerly neighbour’s spread: roasted turkey with stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and, of course, pumpkin pie. The Canadian Parliament made the holiday official in 1879 – in modern times it has been celebrated on the second Monday in October. Canadians love their long weekends. The official reason given for this day of thanksgiving in Canada is to celebrate the harvest. My guess is that it has more to do with celebrating a new season of professional hockey.
Strangely enough, I don’t remember a single Canadian family actually sitting down to a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving – not as a child and certainly not as an adult. I do remember, however, being inundated at that time of year with commercials for the ubiquitous Butterball Turkey – which, by the way, contains no butter. No matter, turkey was definitely not a mainstay in our household. I don’t think my bubbe ever cooked one – Lord only knows what she would have stuffed it with. The only time of year that my mother would have considered serving it was at the Passover seder – by the time the big bird was served we were so stuffed from eating matzot that we didn’t care how dry the white meat actually tasted.
My first real introduction to Thanksgiving was after Lori and I moved to Israel in 1986. While living in the Absorption Centre in Jerusalem we were shocked to discover just how seriously our fellow American immigrants venerated this secular holiday. Considering how cramped all of our living quarters were, I would have expected our new friends to take a break from tradition that first year in their new surroundings. Not a chance. They were a determined bunch considering the effort it required back then to track down a whole turkey along with the mandatory cranberry sauce and pumpkin filling. Cable TV was nonexistent and the Net was still only a dream, so American football was clearly not a part of their festive equation. Something much bigger was clearly afoot beyond the consumption of a 4500 calorie meal – that, by the way, is the estimated caloric intake of your basic Thanksgiving dinner.
Americans worship Thanksgiving for the very reasons that make them so different than Canadians. To be a Canadian means to be peaceful, to be politically correct and above all else to be nice – Canadians yearn more than anything to be liked by everyone. After all, our national symbol is the mighty maple leaf –how threatening is a leaf?
Americans, on the other hand, love drama; they live for the big event. Heck, it takes the country over two years just to elect its president. Americans are extremely proud of their many achievements and are eager to share them with just about everybody. The Academy Awards is truly a global event – people here in Israel stay up all night to watch the ceremony. That is hardly the case when it comes to Canada’s Screen Awards presented annually for the best in Canadian cinema. I can’t imagine that there are too many people outside of the Great White North who are sitting anxiously at the edge of their seat waiting for the envelope please. Canadians do not crave the big stage.
Americans have a lot to be thankful for and Thanksgiving reflects that gratitude on a big scale. Americans kick the day off with a huge parade and end it the next day – Black Friday – with the biggest retail event of the year. In between all of this revelry, they will manage to consume some 46 million turkeys while taking in three televised football games. Let us not forget football. To quote Erma Bombeck, America’s beloved humourist: “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.”
It’s a pretty safe assumption that I will not be sitting down to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year as tempting as all those calories might be. All the same, I will likely tune into one of those televised football games – and for this I say wholeheartedly: “Thank You America.”