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A Canadian Thanksgiving

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Today is Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. Unlike our friends in America, we celebrate Thanksgiving in October. Where the American Thanksgiving has a storied history and ushers in the holiday season, we Canadians really have no idea why we celebrate this day that ushers in the Fall season. Thanksgiving comes when the leaves are entering the height of their glory and the air is just beginning to turn crisp. The last of the season’s produce is being harvested and apple orchards are abuzz with activity. This may well be my favorite time of year.

The first Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated on April 15, 1872 in thanks for the recovery of the future King Edward VII from a serious illness. The next Thanksgiving was not celebrated until 1879 when it was celebrated on a Thursday in November. Much like the United States, Canada seemed to have a difficult time deciding when a day of Thanksgiving should occur. From 1879 to 1898 it was celebrated on a Thursday in November; from 1899 to 1907 on a Thursday in October (except in 1901 and 1904 when it was celebrated on a Thursday in November); from 1908 to 1921 on a Monday in October; and between 1922 and 1930 the Armistice Day Act declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on Armistice Day, the Monday of November 11. In 1931 the Act was amended and the old practice of Parliament declaring a day of Thanksgiving each year was resumed.

On January 31, 1957 Parliament issued a proclamation to fix permanently the second Monday in October as “a day of general Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.”

Much like the Thanksgiving Day of our neighbors to the South, the Canadian celebration includes parades and festive meals, often including turkey with all the “fixins.” We eat pumpkin and apple pies and squash and whatever other vegetables are available that go well with turkey. Many Canadians regard the American celebration of Thanksgiving to be almost vulgar for its excesses. We tend not to make it a day for huge quantities of food and loud football games. We certainly do not gear up for a “Black Friday” shopping experience the next day where financial excess follows closely behind caloric excess. Thanksgiving is usually a quiet day of hiking, enjoying nature, and enjoying fellowship with family and friends. It is not nearly as significant day as Thanksgiving is in America.

Still, at the heart of the celebration is the idea of giving thanks for the goodness of the season past. Or so it used to be for most people. In reality, as Canada becomes increasingly secularized, Thanksgiving is rarely used as a day for giving thanks to God. Last weekend, when I was at the Desiring God conference, I heard Voddie Baucham speak about secular humanism and the hopelessness it brings. As he spoke of this I was struck, as I so often am, but how good it is to be able to give thanks. Secular humanism teaches that we are on this earth by accident and, while we are here, we exist to consume and enjoy. There is little room for the giving of thanks within the constraints of such a worldview. The Bible, on the other hands, teaches that we have been lovingly and deliberately created by God and that we exist to worship and bring glory to Him. Within this worldview there is great room for thanks. In fact, this worldview cannot exist without thanks. Thanks and Christianity are inseparable.

Back in 2004, as I thought about Thanksgiving, I reflected on “Thanksgiving and the Appropriate Number of Prepositions.” The verb “thanks” without an appropriate number of prepositions makes little sense. While everyone likes to give thanks for things at Thanksgiving, what has often been lost is the fact that we do not merely give thanks, but give thanks to. Millions of Canadians will say today that they are thankful for their families, for their jobs or for the freedoms they enjoy, but who are they thankful to? It seems to me that there is little purpose in being thankful if we do not acknowledge that there is to whom we owe this thanks! Do I thank fate? Do I thank circumstance? Do I thank myself?

Some time ago James White wrote about this as well. He said “But the fact is that ‘thanksgiving’ means ‘the giving of thanks’ and when you ‘give’ something you give it to someone identifiable… It is a time for giving thanks to God for His bountiful blessings. The giving of thanks is not only a hallmark of Christian character, but it is a duty incumbent upon all men.” He quotes Romans 1:20-21 which reads “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:20-21). All men owe thanks to God.

He concluded with these words: “It is no wonder, then, that giving of thanks is one of the most commonly noted results of regeneration itself: if it is natural for the creature to give thanks (outside the twisted opposition of sin), then it follows when a God-hater is turned to a God-lover, thanksgiving will flow from that redeemed heart.” As the Word reminds us:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6)

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with [an attitude of] thanksgiving; (Col. 4:2)

You will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.

(2Cor. 9:11)

Today I give thanks. I have so much to be thankful for that time and words would fail me to even scratch the surface. But planted at the top of the list this year is gratitude that I can feel gratitude and, even more so, gratitude that I can express gratitude. I am thankful that I feel thankful and am thankful that I know the One to whom my thanks is due.

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