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Thanksgiving day in Canada came first

So much alike, yet so very different. I love both the U.S. and Canada.

Being born and raised in Montreal, I have developed a keen awareness of who I am and from where I came. When I moved to the United States on Thanksgiving day 1990, I found myself living in a country that is so much like my Canadian home, yet in many ways so very different.

When it comes to running things, the Canadian parliamentary system has four major parties, Liberals, Conservatives, the New Democratic Party and the Green Party, all competing for the office of prime minister. The American Republican and Democratic parties continue to battle for the presidency.

Canadians, in general, take more breaks at work and have longer vacations, and they drink their milk out of bags. Even the snacks in Canada are different. Have you ever tried ketchup or all-dressed flavored potato chips? How about a dish of poutine (crispy french fries smothered with cheese curds and gravy)?

All of the Commonwealth countries celebrate Boxing Day the 26th of December. This official holiday has many suggested origins, but the one I prefer to believe started in early 1800s England, during the reign of Queen Victoria. When a child of an affluent family received a new pair of shoes or a new toy, they would re-box the child’s old shoes or toy and give it to the poor. A modern Boxing Day is the day one boxes up the Christmas gifts they didn’t like and returns them for either exchange or store credit.

Also, we have Thanksgiving. This is a patriotic time of year when we reflect back on the early settlements in what the Brits still refer to as the colonies. Those early years were difficult ones. The harshness of the long winter months made Pilgrim survival questionable, especially for the women. The Pilgrim men always outnumbered the women.

Some of the local Indian tribes shared their knowledge of farming, fishing and winter survival with suffering settlers. Eventually the death toll began to go down while the European population in the New World started to climb. Land was settled and farmed and the harvest was plentiful, thanks to the native peoples shared techniques. In the fall of 1621, with bountiful fields harvested, it was suggested that a harvest festival be organized, open to all, including the local tribes. The concept stuck. Thanksgiving has become a big deal in America.

The Canadian Thanksgiving is held the second Monday of October. The American celebration was focused on showing God appreciation for the bountiful harvest. The Canadian Thanksgiving celebration was focused on giving thanks to God for protecting those early Canadian explorers, as they explored and settled the New World.

Did you know that the first Canadian Thanksgiving actually happened decades before the first Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, on Nov. 11, 1620? Records show that the first Canadian Thanksgiving was in 1578 when Martin Frobisher, a British explorer, and his crew shared a feast of thanks to God for granting them safe passage through the unexplored northern passage into what is known today as the Canadian Territory of Nunavut.

Since then the Canadian Thanksgiving has adopted many identities, including the celebration of the recovery of the prince of Wales from a near-death illness in April 1872.

Now, we look at that special Thursday in November, or Monday in October, and gather with family and friends and contemplate all that we are thankful for. As for me, I am thankful that I get to call both Canada and the United States my home.

Richard Hunter lives in Jacksonville.

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