There is invariably an atmosphere of anticipation as a prelude to a national holiday, or what perhaps as a concession to creeping Marxian philosophy is called a “public holiday”. The distinction may be nothing more than a diversion of one’s attention from the element of “state run” to the more palatable factor of “community”, though I am reminded of the dismissive comment of a denizen of an upper class ghetto that “Fairs are for the poor!” But I am getting off-point. This wasn’t meant to be a discussion of socialism or the proletarian revolution; rather I want to address and acknowledge what has become one of the most important annual holidays on the calendar quite outside political ideology or the functioning of capitalism. Indeed in the American vernacular Thanksgiving is all about excess and abundance, very much in keeping with the reputed tendency of our neighbours to the South to indulge themselves in the profits of free enterprise. But again I am losing the thread.
To get back on track, let us refresh our collective memory, shall we? The current holidays in Canada set countrywide at the national level as well by each of the ten provinces and three territories (where generally banks, government offices, schools and businesses are closed) are New Year’s Day, Family Day (3rd Monday in February in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario), Good Friday (schools and government offices closed, many banks and businesses open), Easter Monday (schools and government closed, many banks and businesses open), Victoria Day (the Monday before May 25th), Canada Day, August Civic Holiday (celebrated by most provinces), Labour day (1st Monday of September), Thanksgiving Day (2nd Monday of October), Remembrance Day (banks and government offices closed, most schools and businesses open), Christmas Day and Boxing Day (most stores open). It is of course no accident that there are twelve such holidays throughout the year.
I imagine that fifty years ago or more, if one had taken a general census it would have been Christmas Day which pulled ahead of the pack to claim priority in importance and relevance. That at least would have reflected the view of my own nuclear family, when for example my sister and I thought nothing of planning wintry decorations and creating imaginary igloos in the middle of July. The turkey theme just didn’t compete for the ballot. Now however I am hearing again and again that Thanksgiving Day has eclipsed any other holiday. Very often the observation is made in the same breath as an ejaculation about the delight of autumnal weather with its clear blue skies, cool temperatures and changing colours of the deciduous trees. At no other time of year is the promotion of out-of-door visitation so obvious. In some jurisdictions there are bus loads of people transported about the countryside to enjoy the brilliant changes in the once emerald green vegetation. And one can never forget the compelling romance of the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” even though the image is of course more appropriate to Hampstead, England where Keats lived than the countryside of our own robust Canada. The “hardy” mums which proliferate at this time of year at the local grocery stores and upon the verandas of almost every home are testimony to the combined truth of colour and heartiness which so characterize our own experience and distance us from the British themes of drowsiness and ooziness.
Not to offend the Christmas goose (and Charles Dickens) or the Easter lamb, I think there is hardly any question that the Thanksgiving turkey is the most famous. This icon of fecundity is particularly apt for the North American scene, conjuring as it does even distant recollections of the First Nations happily interacting with the Pilgrims, a much more inviting image I think you’ll agree than that of island natives with uplifted spears boiling a pith-helmeted explorer in a cauldron. Both pictures are quite probably rubbish but it is difficult to ignore the symbols and commercialism which have been cultivated so assiduously over the centuries. Thanksgiving Day is all about food and community, a distinctly “family” time of year when relatives from across the country are prompted to reunite, almost genetically. At Thanksgiving you’ll never hear melancholy songs about being home for Christmas, if only in my mind. You’ll damn well be there! And if your household is like most, there’ll be more than a little of the “glass” turkey to lubricate and assuage the condition. Here again the Thanksgiving experience distinguishes itself from the Yuletide wassail as the latter is inclined to involve less private and more public communications, that business of trekking into the night with one’s shivering servant traipsing behind with a load of food for the peasants (more Bolshevism).
The desirable feature of expiation must not be overlooked in the wider view of Thanksgiving Day. It is after all the last day before Christmas when one can usefully exhaust one’s familial duties before jumping ship for southern climes without regret. I for example have long ago learned to promote the axiom of reasonableness that, as a small business owner, it only makes sense to close the doors of one’s emporium for Christmas week and the ensuing week after the New Year. Not to mention the reward of avoiding all that sentimentality of unbridled religious revival and being purified. How many times I can recall blubbering into my crystal tumbler on Christmas Eve before the dying embers of the fireplace listening to the exalted strains of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The universality of Thanksgiving Day as a generic day of thanks embraces far more people in what is now regarded as a secular event.
In spite of what I may have intimated earlier about the surplusage of Thanksgiving Day, it is to be owned that the bounty is not of the same proliferation as its competing Christmas Day which is frequently adulterated with a flood of expensive gifts, where one is almost competing with others for extravagance. At least it can be said of Thanksgiving Day that the prizes very much approach the fundamentals of life, food, drink and company, and as such are wholly worthy to kindle. There is after all something harmless and cozy about pumpkins lumped upon a bale of hay. I will confess however that those so-called decorative gourds can often border upon being spooky and eerie. Even seeing a red squirrel scurrying from another to defend its theft of an ornamental corn cob from someone’s front yard vignette makes me wonder whether I shouldn’t warn it to beware of those colourful kernels. Perhaps it is this very rudimentary foundation of Thanksgiving Day, combining as it does the food, rest and reflection which historically followed the harvest, that makes it such a welcome occasion.