Sunday, October 09, 2011

With Thanks

The idea that Thanksgiving is an American invention has always puzzled me. Perhaps as a holiday - i.e. a day away from work - it is very American but as an actual celebration it is as old as man's first harvest.  When I was growing up the holiday was more of a religious nature based on the observance as set out in the Book of Common Prayer.  Very English and being that our neighbourhood was semi-rural often of a communal nature.

Every culture has its rites, rituals and celebrations of the time of gathering and the First NationsI people in North America were no different with dances and feasts to celebrate the successful bounty of crops.  But Thanksgiving celebrations were not always about the harvest - often they honoured the end of a war, the return to health of an important worthy or the safe deliverance of a community from peril.  Indeed the first record of an non-aboriginal "thanksgiving" in Canada was a service of thanks given when Martin Frobisher reached Baffin Island in 1578.  It has been a bad crossing and one of his small fleet had been lost.

The French explorers and settlers often celebrated special days of feasting to celebrate their safe arrival in a new land, and of course nothing would do but that L'Ordre de Bon Temps be created to oversee the festivities and entertainments.  When France ceded the territory to Britain at the end of the Seven Year's War the nature of the irregular celebrations of Thanksgiving took on the less gourmand tone of the Church of England.  With the influx of United Empire Loyalists many customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving came into the feast day but celebrations were still of an ad hoc nature not an annual event.

With the celebration in 1879 it became a yearly holiday but in those days, like our American cousins, it was a Thursday in November.  And though the theme was often one of thanks for the harvest just as often it was to give thanks on the anniversary of a special event.  After the horror of World War One it was combined with Armistice Day as a day to be thankful for the sacrifices of those who died so that the bounty of the earth could be enjoyed.  In 1931 they became separate holidays - November 11 as Remembrance Day - and normally the second Monday in October as a day of Thanksgiving.  It was not until 1957 that the day was officially set. 

The Shakers have always fascinated me and though the foundation of their faith was Church of England they were a people much persecuted both in England and in their new home in the United States.  However their legacy has been far reaching in so many areas and their music was one of the many "gifts" that they gave the world.  The most famous of their many hymns is one of Thanksgiving - Simple Gifts celebrates exactly that the simple gifts for which we should all be thankful.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,

To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
1848 - Alfred Community, Maine
As with most of us I often forget the many things and more especially the many people that I have reason to give thanks for at this time of my life.  So I will simply give thanks for being given my own "valley of love and delight."

09 ottobre/October - Giorno del Ringraziamento

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yvette said...

Un très grand merci Willym! your post have been so moving lately.

Anonymous said...

Hope you have/had a lovely Thanksgiving, renewing old friendships and enjoying time with family.

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