This coming weekend we will celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, a day proclaimed by Parliament on January 31st, 1957 as “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed … to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.” We have been doing this as a nation even before this 1957 proclamation. This tradition predates the Parliamentary proclamation by hundreds of years.
Our First Nations celebrated harvest with a feast of gratitude. Martin Frobisher in the year 1578, held a formal ceremony in Newfoundland to give thanks for surviving the long journey and his safe homecoming as he searched for the Northwest Passage. In 1604 French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain held a huge feasts of thanks.
Beginning 1879 Thanksgiving was held every year in Canada but the date and theme of the date was selected annually. After WW1 Thanksgiving and Armistices Day were held on the same day, the Monday of the Week in which November 11th occurred. In 1931 the two days were separated and finally in 1957 Parliament proclaimed the 2nd Monday in October as Thanksgiving Day.
I would like to take a few moments to ponder that 1957 proclamation, “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed … to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.” In 1957, it is apparent from this proclamation that the federal leaders of this country still considered “Almighty God ” to be the giver of all good gifts and the one to who thanksgiving should be offered.
“Almighty God” or “God Almighty” is a biblical name attributed to the Creator God of Genesis chapter one. El – Shaddai (‘ēl šadday) God Almighty possesses two roots for the word: 1) to be powerful; and 2) breast, nourisher, sustainer. The name is first attributed to God in Genesis 17:1 where an encounter between God and Abram is recorded, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.”
Now to be fair, Judaism and Christianity are not the only religious traditions which refer to God as “God Almighty.” Both the Islamic tradition and the Hindu tradition also use this phrase in talking of their god(s). But I believe we can safely say that in 1957, when the Canadian Parliament made this proclamation, the God they had in mind was the God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures referred to first in Genesis 17:1 and other places as “God Almighty”. “God Almighty” or “God the powerful sustainer of all He created” was who those folks in our Parliament in 1957 had in mind when they proclaimed that “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed…”
Our Parliament intended that this day be set aside as a day of “general thanksgiving”. This means that the intent was that every Canadian, that the population of this nation generally stop and give thanks to God Almighty. That is the reason that in most Provinces Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday, by law people in non-essential service job are given the day off for the stated purpose of thanking God Almighty. Sadly, so many who presently enjoy the day off work take no time at all to give thanks, not even in a perfunctory prayer before a meal.
The proclamation was made to encourage Canadians to thank God Almighty, the strong Provider of all that we enjoy for the bountiful harvest. In our region most of the residents are not too removed from farming to recognize God’s role in the harvest. But in many cities in Canada, children now grow up literally believing that their milk comes from Safeway and have no concept that the milk they drink comes from cows.
We have become so removed from our agricultural roots that most in the 1950’s could relate to, that many imagine that the bounty they enjoy is theirs because they work hard, earn an income and can afford to go shopping for the things they want and need. For many in our Nation there is little or no daily awareness that the bounty we enjoy as a nation is a gift of God Almighty to us.
We have come to believe that we are deserving of all that we have and that those in the world that do not have what we enjoy, lack because of some fault of their own. I’m not saying that when Canadians stop and think seriously about the misfortune of those living in the third world that there isn’t compassion. But when you listen closely to your own heart and to the voices of others who speak of the less fortunate even in our country, we all too often account for our prosperity by looking to our education or our industriousness or our “good luck” and look down on those who are not prospering as being lazy or ignorant and even less deserving than ourselves.
When I think of myself and my own enjoyment of a bounty in material well being, I need to remind myself that it is nothing short of the undeserved grace of God that I was born in North America and not in Uganda; that I was born with a strong healthy body and not with some crippling deformity; that I posses average intelligence and grew up in a home where I was taught a good work ethics and not with less than average intelligence and raised in a home where sloth conditioned me to be unmotivated.
When the question “Why Me?” is voiced, I often think in the opposite direction of many others. Not “Why am I suffering some difficulty?” but “Why do I enjoy such material prosperity, such educational privilege, such job opportunity?” Why should those who live in the south-eastern corner of this Province possess a standard of living that exceeds that of 90% of the population of the world? Why should we enjoy a health care system that exceeds the affordability and quality of health care in the greatest majority of the world?
Our politicians on January 31st, 1957, wittingly or unwittingly understood that it is by the grace of God Almighty, by his strong and abundant provision that we enjoy anything and therefore, it is right and fitting for us to give Him thanks. I wonder if this coming Monday if you and I should use the day set aside for thanking God Almighty for his bounty to us and take some time, intentionally to stop and reflect then say “Thank You” to the powerful provider and sustainer of all creation? I wonder, as I watch the direction our nation is going if the day won’t come when a challenge will be raised to alter this 1957 proclamation and a day of thanksgiving to God Almighty might be removed from our national calendar? Sometimes we don’t know what we have until it is gone. Might we use this coming Monday as it was intended and be a grateful people for all that God Almighty has bountifully and graciously given us.
Chaplain's Corner is written by Bethesda Place chaplain Larry Hirst. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the writer and do not represent the views or opinions of people, institutions or organizations that the writer may be associated with professionally.