May 30th, 2024

Thanksgiving an evolving celebration

By Submitted Article on September 18, 2020.

Recently, I spoke with a family member who shared that one of the reasons she looks forward to the beginning of the school year is that it is when she can start preparing for Thanksgiving. Naturally, this piqued my curiosity as to the origins of the holiday. How did the second Monday in October become Canada’s official Thanksgiving Day?

The Canadian Thanksgiving is traced back to 1578, when English explorer Martin Frobisher arrived in Newfoundland on his third voyage to Canada. After he and his crew arrived, they gave thanks for their safe arrival and observed communion, sharing a meal of salt beef, biscuits and mushy peas. The celebration was introduced to Nova Scotia in the 1750s and became common across the rest of the country by the 1870s.

In 1879 Parliament officially declared Nov. 6 as Thanksgiving Day. Years later on Jan. 31, 1957, Vincent Massey, who was the Governor-General of Canada, issued a proclamation stating: “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed [is] to be observed on the second Monday in October.” This date was more in line with the completion of the harvest nationwide, and therefore was more widely embraced.

Although not everyone is a farmer, we all enjoy the fruits of the harvest. Thanksgiving marks a time for us to be thankful for the time we get to spend with our loved ones over a meal. As time has passed and Canada has become an even more cultural mosaic, Thanksgiving offers us the opportunity to celebrate the different peoples, cultures and traditions that make up our nation.

This is most evident at the dinner table where the staple turkey centrepiece is accompanied by a variety of side dishes, from the classics like potatoes, stuffing and brussels sprouts, to mac and cheese, falafel and baklava for dessert. Included on some tables will be many vegan and vegetarian options, including a roasted tofu turkey. Now even our supermarkets offer a vast global diversity of foods and spices, which for many will be a part of the Thanksgiving table.

If we had never embraced change and variety, our celebration meal would be stuck with those mushy peas. In many ways, traditions evolve and remain at the same time, and I think will continue to do so.

This year’s Thanksgiving is certain to be a special one. With all that is going on in the world, let us take the time to reflect on the object of the celebration – acknowledgment of, and appreciation for, our relationships, our health and the happiness that togetherness brings. As we do so, let us also remember to treat others with kindness and respect to help maintain the communities we can all be grateful to live in.

I for one am thankful for the gift of technology that has enabled virtual gatherings such as reunions, weddings and YouTube adventures. This Thanksgiving Day I will connect with some of my loved ones, who won’t be in the same geographic place for now.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mable Stewart is a Lethbridge-based etiquette and image consultant. She can be contacted by email at

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