It wasn’t until moving to America for grad school that I started referring to it as “Canadian Thanksgiving.” It’s a small act of concession—just one of many frequently offered to my fellow Americans in order to preempt confusion. But “Canadian Thanksgiving” is the saddest gesture of translation. Like how I say “beanie” instead of “toque,” “grading” instead of “marking.” We’re basically the same, these substitutions suggest. We’re so similar it doesn’t bear discussing. It wasn’t until moving to America that it even occurred to me at all that Thanksgiving might require disambiguation.
Do you even have Thanksgiving in Canada?
Yes, of course.
But what are you celebrating?
The problem with feeling alienated by another country’s holiday—a holiday so bombastic and cheery in commemorating its colonial roots—is that sometimes you’re already too busy feeling alienated by your own home country’s version of that holiday. I’m not really sure about its Canadian origins, and neither is the sparse Wikipedia entry for “Thanksgiving (Canada),” but its current manifestation feels weakly aspirational.What we talk about when we talk about Canadian Thanksgiving in elementary school: Pilgrims (probably American, in retrospect), cornucopias, and general togetherness. During Canadian Thanksgiving, which falls on the third Monday of October, we also eat turkey and gravy and cranberry sauce and sort of amorphously “give thanks.” Again, I’m not sure what exactly for.
I’ve always admired what a production American Thanksgiving appears to be. It’s such a very long holiday. Half my students don’t show up for class that week, because people actually travel home for American Thanksgiving even though Christmas break is like, three weeks away. To judge by Instagram, it’s a holiday largely about gratuitously photographing giant plates of food. According to Twitter, it’s a holiday marked primarily by debates over which regional culinary traditions are deemed weird and bullshit. In its most reified contemporary form, it seems to be a holiday that celebrates family. Maybe I’m getting all of this wrong. To be honest, I could be all wrong about Canadian Thanksgiving too.