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October 18, 2013

Canadian Thanksgiving vs. Halloween

Last weekend, I was listening to satellite radio in the car coming back from dropping off the kid at university after the Thanksgiving holiday. On this one U.S.-based talk show a couple of dudes were jawing about Canadian Thanksgiving and drawing up a list of the top three Canadians they were thankful for — when I left off, that trio comprised Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox and Pamela Anderson (surprisingly, no mention of just-announced Nobel Prize laureate for literature, Alice Munro).

The radio guys were puzzled about the meaning of Canadian Thanksgiving and asked listeners north of the border to call in and shed some light on the fall holiday, hoser-style. “Do you eat roast beaver with maple syrup?” one asked.

As far as I know, and certainly in my heartland-based family’s experience, most Canadians share with Americans the choice of the principal Thanksgiving dish — the traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings, followed by pumpkin pie, of course. But the parallels pretty well stop there.

There is no comparable bonding fable between Pilgrims and natives, though one might suggest that the mutual pact of survival between English, French and natives in the wake of the battle of Quebec in the winter of 1759 might serve as some kind of inspiration for giving thanks, but it’s never happened.

In reality, Canadian Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday timed to roughly coincide with the end of the harvest season, which up north comes several weeks before farmers in more temperate America haul in the hay. Hence, for Canadians, it’s literally an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings of the earth, of family and whatever else good is going on, before the cold and snow set in.

Halloween, though, especially in Quebec, is another story. Whereas one will be hard-pressed to find much Thanksgiving commercial promotion, Halloween is hyped to the hilt. Big retailers start moving Halloween costumes onto the floor at the end of August, with skeletons and jack o’lanterns competing for shelf space with back-to-school supplies.

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