Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Thanksgiving Tradition

It is Thanksgiving in the United States on Thursday. I think having a set day every year to join together in being grateful for all our blessings and to spend time with our families is a wonderful tradition. I come from Canada and we have Thanksgiving there too, only it is celebrated a bit earlier, on the second Monday in October. No matter what is happening in our lives, we all still have things to be grateful for, and it is good to take time out to do that. Even though I have lived in England for over twenty years now, I still make a point of celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving with my family. It is not a holiday here, but we still have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, even if it is on a workday! It does not just give my family and I an opportunity to be grateful, it also enables me to celebrate my heritage and instil this tradition in our son, who is, after all, a dual citizen just like me.

For Americans Thanksgiving is said to have begun back in 1621, with a meal shared between the Plymouth Colonists and the Wampanoag Indians. Since 1863 it has been a tradition to repeat this celebration on the fourth Thursday in November with family gatherings, traditional meals and parades. The Macy’s Parade in New York City may be the most famous, but parades are held in many American cities including Chicago, Philadelphia, Plymouth, Seattle, Pittsburg and Los Angeles. For Canadians, Thanksgiving stemmed from the historic European tradition of a day of thanksgiving for the harvest and also from a thanksgiving celebration held by Martin Frobisher, a British explorer, on his arrival in Newfoundland in the late 1570’s.

The Canadian Thanksgiving is a much lower-key celebration than in the United States, but just because the celebrations are lower key does not mean Canadians don’t feel Thanksgiving is an important part of their lives and heritage. In fact it is often the holiday tradition those who leave Canada miss the most.

In England where I live, the only harvest-time thanksgiving celebration I know of is that held by the Christian church on the Sunday in September or October consisting of a thanksgiving service during which a collection of food is made for the poor. Sometimes there is a church lunch afterwards, or a harvest supper. It is lovely, but the trouble is, anyone who does not attend church misses out on the opportunity to celebrate their blessings and be thankful. As a result, there is no one corporate reminder here in the UK for secular society of the very important premise of gratitude and how it should figure prominently in our lives.

However, in the case of both the American and Canadian celebrations, Thanksgiving has become much more secular over the years. Although I’m not a tremendous fan of religious celebrations being assimilated into popular culture (and sometimes losing some meaning in the process), in this case I think it is a good thing. You see, the majority of people in North America celebrate Thanksgiving regardless of their faith. Most of us have a lot to be thankful for whatever our circumstances and whatever your faith, being grateful is a positive emotion. It benefits not just the person who is grateful, but also those around them.

When I was a little girl in school, they always used to ask us what we were grateful for at Thanksgiving. It made us stop and think. It is so easy to rush through our lives, getting caught up in the corporate quest for “more” and forgetting that, in most cases, we already have so much. It is not just children who need to be reminded.

Whether you are in a country that celebrates Thanksgiving or not, if you were to celebrate it on Thursday, what would you be grateful for? In other words, what are you grateful for right now? My family, my home and the abundance in our lives are only just a start on my list. And if you are celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday, do enjoy it. It is entirely possible that Great Aunt Martha might drink too much and Uncle Bill will probably say something controversial as usual, but does it really matter? And if the turkey isn’t perfect or someone forgets the green bean casserole, never mind. What you eat isn’t important, eating it with a grateful heart is. It is a privilege to celebrate Thanksgiving - so please do have a happy one!