A look at past celebrations of Thanksgiving

Another Thanksgiving holiday will soon be upon us. It is one of the most popular annual family holidays – in some cases, second only to Christmas and New Year’s.

The roots of Thanksgiving go back centuries.

The celebration of the end of harvest, and hopefully the security of having enough food for the coming winter, is deeply rooted in agricultural societies. The famous Pilgrim Thanksgiving feast in Massachusetts in 1621 is often cited as the origin of many of the traditions of Thanksgiving celebrations.

There are records of Thanksgivings in Nova Scotia going back to the mid-1700s. After the end of the American Revolution, Loyalist refugees, who flooded across the border into Canada, brought with them many of the American traditions such as turkey, pumpkins and squash.

The dates of Canadian Thanksgiving fluctuated over the years, often being held between mid-October and early November. In 1879, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 6th.

A tradition of setting the date of Thanksgiving by annual proclamation, by the Governor General, continued for many decades. However, local celebrations continued to be determined by the state of local harvests.

Also, Thanksgiving generally had a strong religious component and was often marked on a Sunday with special church services.

One of the first recorded Thanksgiving celebrations in Red Deer took place on Oct. 11th, 1892 at the conclusion of the first fall fair.

A large harvest home supper was held behind the Brumpton Store, on the south side of Ross Street, just west of Gaetz Avenue. Rows of wooden tables and benches were set out for the serving of the meal. Afterwards, the crowd moved to the Methodist Church on Blowers (51) St. for an evening’s entertainment consisting of humorous readings, instrumental music and hearty singing of hymns and popular songs.

The official Thanksgiving Day in 1892 was on Thursday Nov. 10th. For several years before that, and several years after, Thanksgiving was on a Thursday, although the dates ranged from mid-October to mid-November. In 1907, Thanksgiving Day fell on the same day as Halloween (i.e. Oct. 31st).

The following year (1908), Thanksgiving was changed to a Monday (Nov. 9th). It was felt that by setting the holiday on a Monday instead of a Thursday, families would have a greater opportunity to travel and visit family and friends.

The Canadian Pacific Railway encouraged this idea by offering special fare reductions, if a round–trip ticket was purchased.

The First World War was a searing experience across Canada. Consequently, as the War finally began to draw to a close, there was a widespread movement to have a national day of thanksgiving to celebrate the end of hostilities and the return of peace.

Thus, while the official Thanksgiving Day in 1918 was set as Monday, Oct. 14th, another Thanksgiving Day was set for the first Sunday after the War came to an official end on Nov. 11th. However, because of the terrible Spanish influenza epidemic that was sweeping the country, this day of thanksgiving for peace was postponed to Dec. 1st as a public health measure.

In 1921, the government decided to combine the traditional Thanksgiving Day and the new Armistice (Remembrance) Day. Hence, Monday, Nov. 7th was designated as the combined national holiday. That tradition was continued until 1931, when the Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day holidays were separated again.

Thereafter, Thanksgiving Day was generally proclaimed as being the second Monday in October. An exception occurred in 1935, when Thanksgiving was shifted from Monday, Oct. 14th, to Thursday, Oct. 24th, because of the federal election. Remembrance Day was commemorated on Nov. 11th, regardless of what day of the week that was.

After 1957, Thanksgiving Day was permanently set by national legislation as the second Monday in October. The annual proclamations by the Federal Government became a thing of the past.

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