Last Wednesday, one of my professors - an American transplant - commented on Canadian Thanksgiving, saying something to the extent of: "Why do you even have Thanksgiving up here? You don't have any Pilgrims or anything." I'd always wondered the same thing, so his question nestled in my little brain, and since I had an half-hour of free time today, I thought I'd check in on the origins of Thanksgiving, both the American and Canadian celebrations, and straighten this out.
According to thanksgivingtraditions.com, from 1777 to 1783, American Thanksgiving was first celebrated in December, until George Washington moved it to November 26 in 1789. After that point, various Presidents decided on celebrations willy-nilly until 1863, when Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November the National Day of Thanksgiving, celebrating the North's victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Naturally, the Southern states weren't too keen on this, but eventually Thanksgiving - which evolved from the New England harvest festival - was celebrated in all the States.
Interestingly enough, the day's traditional association with the pilgrims is - like so many widely-held beliefs - misunderstood. The "tradition" of Thanksgiving coming from the traditional Harvest festival celebrated in 1621 was first brought together by author Alexander Young in 1841, and illustrations dating from the 1900s forever linked the images of Settlers sitting down to dinner with Indians. Another one of my common-sense beliefs, shattered.
And what of Canadian Thanksgiving? The first Thanksgiving in all of North America was celebrated in 1578...in Newfoundland. The first official Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1872, to thank god for the recovery of (then) Prince Edward from illness. Much like the American celebration, the actual date of Thanksgiving varied from year to year, in October, November, or whenever the Prime Ministers wanted. For a time in the '30s it was linked to November 11, which was then known as Armistice Day, but when that was changed to Rememberance Day, Thanksgiving drifted again. Finally, in 1957, Parliament set Thanksgiving as the second Monday in October, declaring it "a day of general Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed."
Wow. That was totally unneccessary.