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The first North American Thanksgiving is traced back to 1578 when the English navigator Martin Frobisher held a formal ceremony in what is now called Newfoundland. We donít believe this is when the kissing-of-the-cod tradition began, but there was indeed a great party to give thanks for surviving the long journey across the Atlantic.
Forty years later, and also after crossing the ocean, French settlers led by Samuel de Champlain in Nova Scotia would hold huge feasts of thanks. They got a little more organized, formed "The Order of Good Cheer" and shared their food with Indian neighbours.
This would be around the same time as the American pilgrims gave thanks in 1621 for the bounty that ended a year of hardships and death. Of significance, it was at this time when the main course - the wild and not very handsome turkey -- made its succulent first appearance at the feast. Thanksgiving revellers have been arguing over the drumsticks ever sense.
For the next two centuries, people on both sides of the border would informally set aside a day in November to lift a glass and give cheers to the harvest. But the Americans beat us to the punch, so to speak, when in 1863 Abe Lincolnís government officially declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November. Itís been celebrated on that day ever since.
We couldnít make up minds that easily, it seems.
Our Canadian Thanksgiving bounced around the calendar quite a bit. It was first celebrated as a national holiday on November 6, 1879. Many different dates were used after that, the most popular being the 3rd Monday in October. The thinking was that this simply made sense because of our shorter growing season. After World War I it was moved back to the second week of November to coincide with Armistice Day. But finally, in 1957, Parliament said enoughís enough and formally proclaimed the 2nd Monday of October as "a day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed." Phew!
Personal note: I donít know if it matters or not, but itís still funny of how the specific Thanksgiving times were chosen. Canadians chose their date for Thanksgiving based on seasonal convenience, and Americans chose their date to ensure that there would be 4 full weeks of Christmas shopping.
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