Commentary

Thank sg iv ing-eh?

Two Canadian celebrations preceded those famous Pilgrims

We think of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American observance, and indeed it is, but the impulse to give thanks to a power greater than ourselves is a universal one.

In fact, there were two observances of holidays very similar to our Thanksgiving in North America before the famous feast by the Pilgrims in 1621.

British explorer Martin Frobisher was trying to discover a “northwest passage” to the Pacific Ocean. His third trip in 1578 was so harrowing, surviving icebergs and storms in the North Atlantic, that he held a service which can lay claim to being the first Thanksgiving in the New World.

Frobisher gathered his ships at what is now Nunavit on Baffin Island and Robert Wolfall, an Anglican minister, conducted a service, preached a sermon of Thanksgiving and administered communion.

That probably was the first Protestant service in North America. The Pilgrims wouldn’t arrive for another 42 years.

Twenty-eight years after Frobisher, there was an observance that had much more in common with the one in Massachusetts a couple of decades later.

Taking note of the good relations and sharing of food between French settlers and Native Americans in what is now Nova Scotia, the explorer Samuel de Champlain proclaimed L’Ordre de Bon Temps, “The Order of Good Cheer (or Good Times)” on Nov. 6, 1606

It was eerily similar to “our” Thanksgiving. Champlain even noted 30 of his crew had died over the preceding months. Half the Pilgrims died in the winter of 1620-21.

But there was a big difference. Those Frenchmen feasted and offered prayers all the way until March!

Come to think of it, giving thanks every day is not a bad idea at all. Happy Thanksgiving.—M.B.


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2011-11-24 digital edition



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