As a child, I don’t recall Thanksgiving being overly special, we just ate more. At school, the walls displayed rainbow-tailed turkeys, black hats, silver buckles, and a regular cornucopia of paper fruits and vegetables to which we added black cats and jack ‘o lanterns a week later (I was thankful for Halloween, especially the candy).
We learned about American pilgrims, I think, because they had such a defining one-time back story for their Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until I was older, that I discovered the rich history of Canadian Thanksgiving.
In 1578, Martin Frobisher and his crew celebrated a thanksgiving service to God for bringing them home after another failed attempt to discover the Northwest Passage.
In 1604 Samuel de Champlain and the Order of Good Cheer regularly thanked God for surviving another Canadian winter.
National Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada commemorated many things; the end of wars, recovery of a monarch and of course, the harvest. It wasn’t until 1957 that a fixed day of Thanksgiving was set; the second Monday in October.
Canadian Thanksgiving evolved out of religious traditions. Giving thanks to God is something the churches still do.
For instance, every Sunday in the Orthodox church we celebrate the Eucharist, which literally means ‘Thanksgiving’. Every Sunday, we thank God for Christ’s resurrection, an event which reunites us with God and with each other. Every Sunday, as I look around the sanctuary, I know each and every person there is a valuable member of the Christ’s resurrected body; the church. Since I am also a member, every person, every part of Christ’s body has directly influenced me in some manner. As I pondered this, I realized, it wasn’t just the church but every single person with whom I’ve had any type of contact have all helped shape me into who I am today. If nothing else, the Orthodox Church has taught me the value of community.
I used to think I could live as an individual and be wholly responsible for who I was, who I am and who I will be. I realize now, I am not an isolated individual. Every person with whom I have come into contact has infected me with a portion of who they are while, I, in turn, have infected them with me. I am, in some way, connected to every single person on this planet whether for good or for ill.
If I had ever fulfilled my childhood dream of becoming a hermit with no contact with any other person whatsoever, I never would have grown as much I have now. If somehow, I could have eliminated all books, radio, TV, internet, shopping for supplies or anything made by someone else like clothing, cookware, tools, I would have stagnated.
Every person around me gives me a reason to be thankful, not just once a year but every day, every hour, every minute, every second.
We have shaped and influenced each other teaching us about ourselves and that is something to give thanks for.
Thanks for my parents who gave me birth and looked after me and taught me how to think.
Thanks for my younger sisters who made my anger visible.
Thanks for all the friends and adversaries I had growing up who taught me loyalty, frustration and forgiveness.
Thanks for the sexist boss who angered me to no end, but taught me to trust myself.
Thanks for the telemarketer who reveals the thin veneer of patience over my irritation.
Thanks for the stranger who smiles at me on the street, lifting my spirits a little.
Thanks for the husband who, more than anyone shows me who I am yet still loves me despite it all.
Thanks for the children who took the knowledge I gave them, built on it and in turn, teach me.
This weekend, I will look around the table and be thankful for every person there. I will be thankful for those thousands of miles away and those who have fallen asleep. I will try to hug someone every day, to phone someone weekly and to pray always. To quote that great sea-going philosopher; “I yam what I yam” because of them and for that I am thankful.
Anastasia Bartlett is an Orthodox Christian attending St. Aidan’s in Cranbrook