Thursday, 19 December 2013

by Austin Ng, Form 3 Cempaka, Class of 2015

Many Malaysians may have heard of this holiday but up until today, have had no clue what it is, when or why it's celebrated.

Some see it merely as "an enacted document orchestrated symbolically and semiotically through eating,” but generally, Thanksgiving Day is when families all over the USA and Canada gather to give thanks for the previous year's harvest. In the United States, it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November whereas in Canada, it falls on the second Monday of October (or rather Columbus Day in the US).

Thanksgiving is always celebrated with a feast, bringing families back together by way of delicious food. Most iconic is the gargantuan stuffed turkey, so much so that Thanksgiving is also known as Turkey Day in the US.

While a notoriously American holiday, it has its roots in European traditions. In fact, the origins of the Canadian Thanksgiving are more closely linked with European traditions than that of the US. Before North America was colonized, celebrations of thankfulness for the products of the annual harvest took place every October in Europe.

The inaugural Thanksgiving of The Great White North took place when an English explorer by the name of Martin Frobisher arrived in Newfoundland in 1578. The first Thanksgiving of the US, however, can be traced to a 1621 document which marked the celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

That means that the first Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated 43 long years before the pilgrims disembarked on their journey to Plymouth (take that, America).

In the November of 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest (which was a substantial success), Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast which was also attended by their Native American allies, including the Wampanoag Indian chief, Massasoit. Now acknowledged as America’s 'first Thanksgiving', the feast lasted for three whole days.

Historians believe it likely that many of the dishes back then were prepared using orthodox Native American spices and cooking methods. The Pilgrims had no ovens and the Mayflower (their ship's) sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, so there were no pies, cakes or other desserts — a hallmark of contemporary celebrations.

The two distinct holidays do share a similar way of celebrating with their parades and archetypal football games. In America, the most well-known parade is Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which has been going on since 1924. In Canada, it’s the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest parade which is broadcast nationwide on CTV every year. And the universal love for football has made the game a part of Thanksgiving as deep-set as pumpkin pie.

Whilst both the holidays are similar, there are some differences between the traditions of both the countries. For instance, what is the significance of Thanksgiving? In America, it is to be thankful for God’s generosity and for the bounty of the Native Americans. In Canada, it is to thank God for a superb harvest. Thanksgiving is optional in Atlantic Canada as well.

Staple Thanksgiving dinner recipes have also evolved in ways unique to Canada and the US. Canadian pumpkin pie is spicy, with ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon while American pumpkin pie is typically sweet and has custard on it. Canadians bake their sweet potatoes and mash it into a purée while Americans make a casserole topped with marshmallows or candy. Canadians stuff their turkey with bread crumbs or rice while in the US, stuffing is made with cornbread base (in the Southern states), oysters (Eastern states) or rice (Northern states just like Canada). In Canada, they even have the classic Chinese dim sum in lieu of turkey.

They also don’t need to wake up at odd hours to participate in Black Friday.

Now, the day after Thanksgiving is distinguished by heavy shopping, encouraged by generous deals and discounts offered by retailers. What some see as an ironically American celebration, Black Friday commemorates the day when the then hand-written accounting books kept by retail stores would go from red to black (red ink marks a loss, and black a profit). Even after Black Friday, there's still Cyber Monday where people shop heavily online.

Some may say that the true American Thanksgiving Day is obsolete. They want America to do away with the holiday. They tell their children that is it fine to be pleased with what they have, but never to be satisfied. They will constantly be in a state of need. As they've begun to say,“Out with Thanksgiving, in with Thanksgetting.

Yet while the behaviour of consumers on Black Friday will always attract snide remarks from outsiders, Thanksgiving Day will always serve to bring families together no matter how far they may be from each other.

by Lee Ting An 16:09 3 comments | in , , , ,