Thursday, November 22, 2007

Second Monday, Fourth Friday - Thanksgiving

One of my brothers and I have been carrying on a Q&A about seasonal trivia. If he happens to read today's blog entry, then he'll find the answer to the question "What does the novel - The Princes of Ireland - have to do with Christmas?" right here - Newgrange is the answer.

Instead of participating in the controversy about appropriate seasonal greetings like "Merry Christmas" or the more inclusive "Happy Holidays", I prefer to do a little reading and research about the history of our cultural celebrations. Newgrange is a perfect example of how the winter solstice has been the focal point of seasonal celebrations for thousands of years.

Imagine yourself one of the lucky lottery winners in Ireland who gets to be present in this prehistoric site on the longest night of the year when the light of dawn breaks through and illuminates the floor and the long passageway of this structure. The site was built just for this time of year (the winter solstice) and demonstrates how incredibly important our celebrations have been and remain as we approach winter.

On a day like today in southwestern Ontario, when we've had a full night of freezing rain followed by a day of gently falling snow, the idea of celebrating the return of the sun at precisely the time when the prospect of a long winter faces us is entirely welcome.

Thanksgiving is another of those annual celebrations that often gets mired in sappy sentimentality and commercial hyperbole. In Canada, we celebrate it on the second Monday of October. In the United States, it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Making it official might help families and retailers prepare, but the historical point remains very similar to that of winter solstice (Christmas) celebrations. There is something in our very nature which demands social gratitude and appreciation.

In Canada, we often point to Martin Frobisher, an English explorer who, in 1578, gave thanks to God in the company of his crew for a safe journey. That would, by the way, make the Canadian thanksgiving older than the American. But First Nations people certainly celebrated the harvest long before Christians arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador. In their celebrations, the "Three Sisters" of squash, maize (corn), and beans were a focal point for celebrations.

Whatever and whenever we participate in these seasonal celebrations (take a look at the Jewish connection to American Thanksgiving as well), I think we are enriched by a modest knowledge of history. Then the current controversies appear silly and inconsequential in comparison to the universal human need for companionship, gratitude, and hope.

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