Our American Thanksgiving

Thanks to Internet, I have had more USA Mericans than Canadians reading my hack effusions, for more than a decade now. As a Loyalist, and not a Nationalist, I have welcomed that. To my mind, while we are separated by a very long border into subjects of two distinct Nanny States, we are all Americans. Our own immigrant ancestors landed more on that side of the line, than on this; and they and their descendants were only obliged to cross it in light of a Revolution which broke hearts and split families. (I have never liked schism.) Our hope of recovering our property Stateside diminishes with time. But you never know: I have Czech friends who never expected to recover their property.

It is a further misfortune that the day on which we celebrate Thanksgiving has become separated, by the statutes of the respective legislative assemblies. True, Canada is northward of most of those States, and so our harvests tend to fall earlier. But Thanksgiving does not fall earlier still in Alaska; and besides, the whole thing began on Baffin Island.

Our American Thanksgiving is a little different from the European harvest festivals, which were a little different again from the ancient Hebrew Feast of the Tabernacles.

Some forty-two years before the Mayflower, full of Puritans speaking “rights language,” was forced by winter seas to land not in Virginia but on Cape Cod; some twenty-nine years before the Jamestown landing, Martin Frobisher commanded the first British settlement attempt — in what we now call Frobisher Bay. With twenty/twenty hindsight, we can see why he was luckless. At the time his main problem was the ship carrying the building materials. It went down after hitting the ice. Alas, none of his intending settlers knew how to build igloos; nor how to distinguish fool’s gold from the genuine item, so that they loaded their remaining ships with worthless rock for the voyage home.

But they did know how to pray, and Master Robert Wolfall, their Anglican chaplain, “made unto them a godly sermon, exhorting them especially to be thankful to God for their strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places.” And an Anglican Eucharist was celebrated, in Thanksgiving for that deliverance.

Take note: “Deliverance.” For as any of our earliest European ancestors would aver, just being alive is a cause for Thanksgiving. Things may not be going so well for us today, but consider: we have moved past breaking rocks in the polar wilderness. Life could be worse than the crowds in the shopping malls will be tomorrow for Black Friday: though morally it might seem more of a decline.

Frobisher’s old-college try was even twenty-six years before our great hero, Samuel de Champlain, sailed to New France in the path of Jacques Cartier with his own first shiploads of intending settlers. He it was who founded the Order of Good Cheer at Port-Royal; who commanded our first grand, unmistakably Catholic, Thanksgiving feast — sharing out food with the Indians who had come in their amazement to watch. (Malicious sceptics in post-modern academia like to challenge every detail, but observe: they replace our tangible records with hypotheses gathered from the empty air.)

Deliverance is thus an intrinsic part of our American Thanksgiving; Deliverance, in addition to pumpkin and squash and fine turkey birds; Deliverance, as any old mariner would appreciate, from the perils we have seen, and too, from the perils we have not seen. We thank God for what He has given, and also for what He has withheld; for what He has permitted, and what He has denied; for what He has forgiven, and what He has prepared, in the fullness of His incomprehensible Splendour.