On Being Thankful

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving. Monday is the actual holiday, and it is a day to be thankful for the harvest and other blessings. This is a slightly better official reason than in the US, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have historic racist and otherwise problematic undertones (and overtones) here as well. Thanksgiving feasts have happened irregularly, by explorers and settlers, starting in 1578, for reasons such as, good luck, good harvests, celebrating and remembering the ends of wars, in celebration of royalty, and so on.

I read an opinion piece in the CBC late last week which got me thinking more about how and why I celebrate the holiday. I highly recommend that you read this piece by Kim and Jordan Wheeler. They both raise some very important points. I’d challenge everyone to think hard about why they celebrate, and what they are celebrating. Some things on my mind, thanks to the Wheelers:

  • If we’re giving thanks for the harvest – have you actually participated in any harvest this year? Are you eating local and seasonal foods? I do have a small garden, and make an effort to eat local and sustainable food items. I also make an effort to preserve the harvest – my pantry (i.e. spare closet) is currently full of canned jams, sauces, pickles, and vegetables. In this sense, giving thanks for the harvest does make sense for me. This weekend one of the items on my to do list is tearing down my garden and preparing it for winter.
  • What other blessings through the year am I thankful for? This has been a fairly standard year, which means in many ways it is a great year in comparison to some. Should I be making lists of these blessings? (Is this gathering of all of our yearly blessings into a list supposed to warm us in preparation for the upcoming winter?)
  • If I’m not religious, to whom am I giving thanks? The official government proclamation of the holiday reads that we are giving thanks to the ‘Almighty God’. We can all give thanks in our own way, I hope, without the invocation of a specific government mandated deity.
  • Why do I need one day set aside on which to do this giving of thanks? Isn’t it just something we can be doing continually as we go through our life? Historically, apparently, settlers even shared their thanksgiving feasts with the First Nations peoples on the day of thanksgiving – how kind of them. One wonders what the country might look like if they extended the giving of thanks and the sharing into the remaining 364 days of the year.
  • Lastly, how are you giving thanks? Is it through a large meal? Was that food ethically harvested (i.e. how was the farmer paid / the workers treated / the animals raised) or are you giving thanks for blessings in your life through injustices committed against others?

Rather than the European settler idea of giving thanks on one day of the year, perhaps we should follow the tradition of many First Nations peoples to give thanks continually, as Kim and Jordan Wheeler point out. Rather than thinking only of ourselves throughout the year – each and every day we should be giving thanks for what we have and for those who have in any way assisted us. Every day we should be recognizing how our actions impact others, recognizing how our privileges affect our view of the world and what we see and what we get from it, and ensuring that when we are giving thanks we aren’t doing so selfishly but in full recognition of how our blessings affects others.

How that relates to here: I’m thankful for every visit and comment and interaction I get – thank you dear readers. I’m thankful I have access to great books. I want to be more cognizant of how my access to certain types of stories is limited: to who I am reading, and whose stories I am not reading. I want to always remember to thank those who have in any way enabled this. This weekend my book of choice is Finding a Way to the Heart: Feminist Writings on Aboriginal and Women’s History in Canada edited by Robin Jarvis Brownlie and Valerie J Korinek.

Thoughts?

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