[This is intended mainly for the Canadians to whom I'm sending this --
it's sad and ironic that we know more about foreign histories than we do
our own -- but I thought it might also be of interest to several friends
south of the border as an interesting bit of historical information.
Incidentally, if you use Google as a search engine you'll see a
"Canadian Thanksgiving" theme on their home page today -- that's either
www.google.ca or www.google.com.]:
The history of Thanksgiving as a statutory holiday is surprisingly
recent -- as an official holiday it's a 20th century event that used the
New England traditions of its promoter as a basis for promoting a
national day of thanksgiving in the US, and later, in Canada. It was
first permanently proclaimed by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt in the
United States, and after bouncing around the calendar a bit, by P.M.
John Diefenbaker in Canada in The dates the two countries settled on
are different. Today, 14/10/02, the 2nd Monday in October, is when we
celebrate Thanksgiving, but as a festival, it actually not only predates
the pilgrims, but goes back to ancient times and was a Jewish Old
Testament festival, as well.
In fact, the pilgrim festival was not even the first in what is now the
United States -- there's apparently evidence that the ill-fated Virginia
colony also celebrated Thanksgiving [see chronology below]. The first in
what is now North America, and the first in Canada, is a celebration
which is little-known in Canada, and I'm trying to promote it so we can
have some distinctly Canadian symbolism, and that's Martin Frobisher's
16th century celebration of Thanksgiving. As related by David Minor, a
New York historian, media commentator and researcher on his site,
"Eagles Byte": [http://www.home.eznet.net/~dminor/TM961123.html]
"On July 2nd  the fleet sights Meta Incognita (or as it's known
today - Baffin Island). The weather soon turns foul and the fleet is
driven south by unfavorable winds, through Hudson Strait. The seas
continue to worsen and the flotilla begins breaking up. A number of the
supply ships are sunk by the violent weather. One ship deserts,
returning to England. Another is crushed by ice, although the crew is
"Sailing down the northeast coast of Baffin Island, the surviving ships
arrive in more protected waters; a deep inlet on the southeast end. On
July 24th Frobisher names this arm of the sea Countess of Warwick Sound.
Later it will be known as Frobisher Bay. Two of the missing ships -- the
Judith and the Michael -- ; turn up in the Bay.
"In appreciation of this evidence of divine intervention, the Reverend
Mr. Wolfal, Frobisher's Anglican chaplain, steps out on Anne Warwick (or
Kodlunarn) Island, with the other surving Europeans. There -- not in
Massachusetts -- in 1578 -- not 1621, is celebrated what is probably the
first service of Thanksgiving in North America."
Quick chronology of Thanksgiving:
1500 B.C. [?] -- Jewish festival of Sukkoth, or harvest festival. [for a
list of scrumptious-looking Sukkoth recipes, see:
1000 B.C. [?] -- ancient Germanic pagans celebrate "Erntedankfest," or
"harvest thanksgiving festival" [see
http://www.serve.com/shea/germusa/erntdank.htm for information on the
modern holiday in German-speaking countries]
1578 A.D. -- Martin Frobisher's ship's chaplain declares a day of
1619 A.D. -- the Virginia River colony includes in its charter an annual
celebration of thanksgiving
1623 A.D. -- the famous Pilgrim celebration first occured 2 years prior,
but in this year Gov. Bradford declares the day an annual holiday
(although at first it was purely religious and had nothing to do with a
>From then until the 20th century the history is confusing and varied,
depending on the time period and the jurisdiction, so I'll just skip
1863 -- Sara Josepha Hale, editor of "Godey's Lady's Book" convinced
President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim the last Thursday in November,
1863 as a day of thanksgiving; each year afterward, for 75 years, the
President issued a similar proclamation.
1939 -- Pres. F. D. Roosevelt moves the day back a week earlier.
1941 -- Congress officially declares the 4th Thursday of November a
1900s -- Thanksgiving informally celebrated in Canada on the last Monday
1957 -- Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker proclaims the 2nd Monday in
October as the official statutory holiday.
Marc A. Schindler
Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada -- Gateway to the Boreal Parkland
"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high
and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our
Note: This communication represents the informal personal views of the
author solely; its contents do not necessarily reflect those of the
authorís employer, nor those of any organization with which the author
may be associated.
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