A Truly Canadian Thanksgiving

A Christian Perspective

Thanksgiving Table
A Truly Canadian Thanksgiving
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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An early Thanksgiving in Lower Canada was for Thursday Jan. 10th, 1799, (Napoleonic wars)

“In signal victory over our enemy and for the manifold and inestimable blessings which our Kingdom and Provinces have received and daily continue to receive.”

In Upper Canada, Tues. June 18th, 1816, a Thanksgiving Day for the “End of War between Great Britain and France.” (Napoleon, again)

In the Province of Canada, Thursday January 13th, 1850, (cholera epidemic)
“For God’s mercies and the cessation of grievous disease”

First modern Thanksgiving, Monday April 15th, 1872, (Cholera, again) “for the restoration of health of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales”

Thursday Nov. 6th, 1879, for “Blessings of an abundant Harvest”.

It remained the 6th of November until Monday October 15th, 1931,“for general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured”.

But the first Thanksgiving would have been a First Nations thanksgiving for the harvest; the first for the Europeans would have been in 1578 when Martin Frobisher, on his third voyage landed in Frobisher Bay.

The expedition was plagued by ice and freak storms which at times had scattered the fleet and on landing, “..Mayster Wolfall, [ Robert Wolfall ] a learned man, appointed by her Majesties Councell to be their minister and preacher, made unto them a godly sermon, exhorting them especially to be thankefull to God for their strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places,…” . They celebrated Communion and “The celebration of divine mystery was the first sign, scale, and confirmation of Christ’s name, death and passion ever known in all these quarters.”

That thanksgiving meal was likely roast polar bear. Unlike our neighbours to the south, where turkeys and pilgrims often frolic, our thanksgiving roots are quite solemn — thanksgiving for life in the context of continued hardship.

God preserves life in the wilderness and eventually restores the land to the people of Israel. Frobisher gave thanks for life itself in the harshness of an unfamiliar land and climate.

Thanksgiving hasn’t always been on the same day, and it hasn’t always been for the harvest of food. It has been for survival in a harsh climate, for the ending of two wars, for the end of disease, for all the blessings God has given to Canadians.

Officially proclaimed each year afterward until the early 1950s, when the Parliament of Canada declared that the 2nd Monday of October in every year to be Thanksgiving Day, with the same decree of general thanksgiving. So until the 1950’s the Parliament of Canada officially proclaimed a day to give thanks.

I wonder if, as a result of it coming around the same time each year, some might take Thanksgiving for granted.

In the wilderness, the Israelites kept on complaining about how hard their lives were — frustrated in the wilderness,

  • they complain they are hungry and God gives them Manna
  • they make a false god out of gold and jewels and God thinks about destroying the people, but Moses reminds God of God’s promises and God forgives the people

Then when they get to the promised land and begin to clear the land; they build terraces on the mountains to plant date palms, olive trees and vines, wheat and barley and they eventually, with all their hard work, prosper. They might quickly forget that it is God who gives them all that they have. ‘I have really earned this,’ they say after a hard day and they reward themselves with a cup of wine, some dates and figs.

We have to be taught to be thankful. Deuteronomy 8.7-18

In this passage, we hear about the teaching: the people are to take to the temple the first fruits of the harvest: olives that they use to make olive oil, grape vines that they will use to make wine, wheat and barley, figs and pomegranates, and dates from which they made honey.

They are to recite the story of their ancestors’ slavery in Egypt, their journey in the wilderness and the ways God provided for them and brought them to the promised land. And then they are to say, “And now I bring the best of the fruit of the earth, which you, O God, have given me.” and they are to set the basket down in the temple and worship, rejoicing in all the good which God has given them and all who live in the land (including foreigners).

Why were the instructions so specific? so strict? Because people could so easily forget that the fruit, the earth, the land did not belong to them, but to God. Even if they cleared the land, planted and tended and harvested the crops, they were still dependent on God.

Why only these products? Why not almonds and pistachios, carob and the wild flowers from which the bees made honey? These grew whether there was a drought or not. They blossomed before the dry season, and they tended to blossom even earlier and in greater abundance in years of drought.

The seven species listed were the ones that relied heavily on human labour, so would have been those most likely to encourage the farmer to say, “I did this” of a successful crop.

No matter what our age, it seems we have to be reminded to say, ‘thank you’. Which is why the people were so specifically instructed and the reading for this thanksgiving act in the temple was to be written on their foreheads, on the door posts of their houses and the gates of their cities. Even so, they and it seems everyone else, frequently forget to recognize God as the source of all gifts and to give thanks.

The government of Canada had to proclaim days of thanksgiving and now the temptation is there to think that we earned all that we have.

“12When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God . . . 17Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ 18But remember God, for it is God who gives you power to get wealth, so that God may confirm the covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.”

Coming to the temple to lay your first fruits before God helps one to remember to be thankful, to remember that the earth belongs to God. Going from a place of worship, you can be thankful for God’s sustaining Spirit, working in your life from dawn to dusk. Live thankfully.

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