By G.D. Maxwell
In honour of Thanksgiving: Canadian Style, here’s a riddle. How do you keep a turkey in suspense? I’ll get to the answer sooner or later.
Having grown up south of the border, Canadian Thanksgiving inevitably sneaks up on me. That’s not to denigrate Canadian Thanksgiving; lots of things sneak up on me. For example, the switch to daylight savings time catches me unawares twice a year, once right around Thanksgiving just to make matters even more sneakily confusing.
Part of the sneakiness of Canadian Thanksgiving is timing; part is history. American Thanksgiving’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. For the lifetime I pursued Higher Education, American Thanksgiving was a clear and unmistakable signal to stop goofing off and start studying all the subjects I’d pretty much ignored since signing up for them in September. Final exams were less than a month away and a month of relentless study was a fair trade for a semester’s sloth.
American Thanksgiving was also the starting gun for the annual mass consumption marathon called Christmas. Thankfully that burden has now been pretty much foisted off onto Halloween, one month having become far too short a time to do Christmas – and the patriotic duty to shop – justice.
Canadian Thanksgiving, on the other hand, rolls around the second Monday in October. Timingwise, it’s an orderly, well-measured outpost between Labour Day in early September and Remembrance Day, whenever that is. Very Canadian not to bunch these things up too closely.
But the fatal flaw in Canadian Thanksgiving, the absent characteristic dooming it to forever sneak up on me, is its missing mythology. What exactly are we celebrating? A bountiful harvest? An abundance of turkeys? Why turkeys?
Of all American holidays, Thanksgiving is most blessed with mythology. Ya gotcher Pilgrims; ya gotcher Indians; ya gotcher bountiful first harvest; ya gotcher corn – my people call it maize – and ya gotcher moment of peaceful coexistence between the bucolic, self-sufficient natives and the bloodthirsty European colonizers. I like to think Squanto and the rest of the human beings left the table thinking these new neighbours weren’t so bad even if they didn’t know diddly about surviving in the wilderness.
Canadian Thanksgiving, on the other hand, was, at least officially, a celebration of the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a serious illness in 1872. No, I’m not making that up. And it was observed on April 15 th which, in Canada, marks the harvest of river ice. Since it seemed pointless to celebrate the Prince’s good health annually, April 15 th was loaned to the Americans for them to celebrate Income Tax Day and Canada started celebrating Thanksgiving in November.
With the dawn of the new Century – Canada’s Century if memory serves – it was decided celebrating Thanksgiving in November was just too… American. This, historically, was the beginning of Canada’s and Canadians’ long tradition of giving thanks for not being American. The date bounced around between a Monday in October and, as sort of a two-for-one deal, with Armistice Day which was what Remembrance Day used to be called until the government realized no one could spell Armistice.
It wasn’t until 1931 that Canadian Thanksgiving was finally fixed as… whenever it is. No wonder it sneaks up on me.
So in honour of both Thanksgiving and my Perfect Partner reminding me it was coming up this Monday, there are a few things I’d like to give thanks for.
I’m thankful I’m not living in Great Britain. My thankfulness has nothing to do with the usual Brit-bashing reasons. It has to do with surveillance. I was struck recently in London by the overwhelming number of signs advising me I was being watched by CCTV. Once I finally figured out that wasn’t a BBC station but was actually closed-circuit monitors, I began to get this creepy, Orwellian feeling as I took notice of cameras everywhere.
According to Direct Action , there are some 4 million CCTV installations in the Motherland, making Brits the most watched population in the world. After one particularly egregious crime, the BBC reported police were viewing all available videotape from the area of the crimescene; they hoped to be finished viewing it before the statute of limitations ran out. When I inquired of a local whether anyone had raised an uproar about being so closely monitored, the answer was "No, not really." Apparently if you want to get a rise from the British over infringing their civil rights, you have to ban hunting foxes with dogs.
I’m thankful Canada was principled enough to stay out of the Bushling’s Iraq misadventure. Lyndon Johnson, who was as colourful as he was crooked, was quoted more than once as saying, "Don’t be pissin’ down my back and tellin’ me it’s rainin’." The sky is clear but my back feels wet every time I hear Bush, Cheney, Rummy or any of the others in the Neo-Con cabal telling me things are going well in Iraq, the world is safer from terrorism, democracy will be embraced in the Middle East or the whole thing wasn’t about oil.
I’m thankful Little Pauly Martin has a mathematically balanced minority government. It will make it harder for him to gleefully join Mr. Bush’s multibillion dollar sleight-of-hand to weaponize space. As Mel Hurtig points out in his new book, if the U.S. is planning to spend billions on a "defensive" weapon system everybody in the scientific and military community says won’t work, what’s their real reason? When all other explanations fail, go with the obvious, Watson.
I’m thankful Canada twisted Big Pharma’s arms to keep the price of drugs less painful than they’d be otherwise. I’m dismayed every time I hear The Johns – Kerry and Edwards – say they’ll introduce legislation to allow the importation of drugs from Canada if they’re elected. No offense guys, but quite frankly I’d just as soon you begin to solve the problem for yourselves instead of continuing to trumpet the glory of free markets.
Finally, and this isn’t an exhaustive list, I’m overwhelmingly thankful to live in two of the most beautiful places I could ever imagine. Smilin’ Dog Manor is stunning, peaceful and more meditative on the soul than I could ever begin to describe. And Whistler is, despite all the grousing, the best place on the planet for anyone who loves the outdoors, feels a mystical compulsion to be in mountains and loves to slide downhill, bike, run or walk stunning trails or simply mix it up with others from around the world who share those passions. Whatever struggles we’re seeking to wrestle to the ground – and we’re certainly wrestling – pale in comparison to all the wonderful things we enjoy living in our pricey mountain home.
Oh yeah, the riddle. You must have figured it out by now.