Canada has taken a moral and maybe an ethical beating on the world stage and in the media lately.
This Thanksgiving weekend could not be more welcome.
It’s time to remember the good things we have. Despite rising interest rates, a crisis of homelessness and all the “bad” news to which we have been exposed, there is still much to be thankful for. At the top of the list should be the peace we enjoy, despite political grandstanding and “attack dog” politicians. We vote freely in all elections. We do not live in an authoritarian nation. Canada isn’t perfect, we’re not the richest, we’re ninth. But we’re second to Switzerland on the “happiness” index and we’re ranked first on a “nice” scale.
But such rankings are irrelevant. We should be grateful for all we enjoy.
We should be thankful for the agencies and support groups who reach out to the unemployed, the poor and the beleaguered in this country. Many have nowhere else to turn and little hope for a better future. Yet immigrants still come and knock on the door, eager to be part of this land.
Organizations such as the Calgary Food Bank do more than hundreds of bureaucrats. Just a week ago, the annual food bank drive gathered almost a half-million pounds of non-perishable food.
I may disagree fundamentally with the idea of such groups — believing the presence of food banks allows the government to take credit for heading a caring society without having to do the caring itself — but while the politicians argue, the food bank feeds.
So, this weekend, let us acknowledge that Canada has given us much for which to be thankful.
Thanksgiving is about community and commonality, about what makes us the same, not what makes us different. It is about the richness of the land and of our lives. Of course, the poor, the homeless and the helpless are still with us. But I have never yet heard someone down on his luck be unable to say “thank you.” Regardless of the actual bounty, the images of Thanksgiving are always about plenty: sheaves of wheat, baskets of fruit, bushels of vegetables. They are both literal and figurative, representing not only the richness of our tables but of our lives. Such symbols are reminders of the ceremony of thanks that took place in pre-Reformation England when the Church received one loaf of bread made of new wheat from each member of the congregation.
Thanksgiving is not only about giving thanks for what you have, but a ceremony of giving back.
The first Thanksgiving in the New World was held in Newfoundland in 1578, when British immigrants, brought by Sir Martin Frobisher, stopped to conduct a service in thanks. In 1879, the first Canadian national holiday was observed. In 1957 the date was set as the second Monday in October, with a proclamation that read in part: “Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God in His great goodness to vouchsafe many blessings throughout the years to the people of Canada.” We no longer expound on our principles by invoking God, we are a secular society; God belongs in one’s heart, not laws. But the blessings for which we should be thankful have not changed.
Perhaps this year, of all the years since the late Atlanta-based writer Celestine Sibley wrote down the wisdom of an old and uneducated woman, it is time to remind ourselves of the “thankful habit.”
“Thanksgiving should be a storing up of the good things in the heart and mind . . . You got to get the thankful habit. That gives you a cushion.”
It’s as simple as saving the goodness of the year — remembering on Thanksgiving there are good things in each of our lives. Many Canadians will attend their church, cathedral, temple or mosque to give thanks. Many will not.
But religion notwithstanding, the blessings remain.
Catherine Ford is a regular Herald columnist.