What is Thanksgiving?
4th Thursday of November
In the United States Thanksgiving is an important holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. It makes for a 4-day holiday weekend and it is the last big holiday before Christmas in December.
Thanksgiving began as a harvest festival when farmers thanked God for all the food they grew. Americans trace the history of Thanksgiving back to 1621 when the original English settlers arrived near modern Boston on a ship called the Mayflower. So Thanksgiving is a ceremony to remember their arrival in the New World. During the first year after arriving in North America the English European settlers, called“Pilgrims,” almost died from the hard weather, poor preparation, disease and no food. The local Indians saved them by giving them enough food to survive their first winter. After that, farmers successfully grew crops and they remember the terrible winter of 1621 by holding a large family gathering and feast.
Most American schools have Thanksgiving lessons, decorations and activities. American Football is especially popular because it is an autumn sport.
Families gather and enjoy eating turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn and pumpkin pie. After dinner many families watch football championship games on television. Many families also go to church to thank God for their good fortune.
All over the country people watch the New York City Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. The parade ends with Santa Claus to mark the start of Christmas shopping.
2nd Monday of October
Like in the United States, Thanksgiving in Canada is a harvest festival and an important family gathering. Canadians also eat roast turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn and pumpkin pie. Canadians also go to church to thank God for their good fortune. Canadian history is different from American history, however, so Thanksgiving is only a harvest festival, not a ceremony to remember an historical event. Canadians do not usually watch American football games, and there is no Thanksgiving Day parade.
Since 1948 November 23rd has been Japanese Thanksgiving, called “kinrokansha no hi.” It’s a precious piece of culture. Its proper translation is something like “Thanksgiving for labor day,” indicating the Japanese view of work. Japanese think that labor is the most natural thing in life, and therefore labor is the purpose of life. This compares to most Western cultures which generally see life as the purpose of labor. In other words, in Canada we tend to think that we work in order to live - work as a means to an end - while here they more often than not think that we livein order to work - work for its own sake. Japanese have no religious tradition in which mankind falls from grace and is cursed with labor to eek out a living from the earth. Their traditions of ancestor worship and inter-generational duty as well as social obligation in a vertically hierarchical leave them with little notion
of thankfulness to God for their good fortune. In fact, they have little notion of God in the monotheistic sense. Instead, they credit their good fortune to themselves, their ancestors, and their fellows, like everyone traveling in a lifeboat depending on group cooperation for their survival.
Truthfully speaking, “kinrokansha no hi” is actually based on an older holiday on the same date. “Niinamesai” was the day for an imperial ritual where the emperor offered sake rice wine to the god of Heaven and Earth (Tenjin Chigi). As Labor Thanksgiving Day rural communities took it as a celebration to offer rice wine to their agrarian divinities.
As a national public holiday “kinrokansha no hi” is one of the few occasions when Japanese habitually fly their national flag, the Rising Sun, or “hino maru.” You don’t see flags on display here as much as you do in North America, where millions of people display them in gardens or from front porches. That is because such visual displays of patriotism are usually the preserve of those of a nationalist and ultra-rightist political persuasion. You regularly see the hino maru flag at schools, city halls, police stations, and at the airport. But that’s about it. Local neighborhood police boxes and fire stations do not display it except on statue holidays, nor does the common citizenry. There are ultra rightist groups who patrol the city streets in malevolent black painted vans blaring 1930s-era marshal music and trailing over-sized flags. They’re the kind of people one wants to avoid. Japanese visitors to Canada and America return and often comment about all the flags on display. They might visit Niagara Falls and see the Maple Leaf proudly flying in its red and white splendor. We Canadians have a marvelous flag, don’t we? It’s symbolic and very recognizable. Thank God for it.