Celebrating Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving is somewhat invisible – a long weekend in early October – a day of tradition pitched between summer luxury and Christmas in December. Sure, Jour de l’action de grâce is a relief to most, occuring on the second Monday each October. But for most Canadians, Thanksgiving is a relaxing stopover before winter. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate harvests, eat pumpkin pie and watch the CFL Thanksgiving Classic doubleheader, but Christmas is more important. Since November 6, 1879, Canadians have enjoyed the holiday of marshmallow salads, when we take three days off in October to meet, dine and argue with the family. But as most Canadians know, Thanksgiving is a bigger deal in America – a festivity every fourth Thursday in November. There are harvest celebrations with similarities in the autumn months in countries as diverse as Liberia, Japan and Germany. Still, nobody does Thanksgiving like they do it south of the border.  
“In America, Thanksgiving is almost more important than Christmas”, our third-floor resident assistant explained as we stood in the hallway of the high school boys dorm at Prairie, watching Curtis pack his cases, seeing how happy he was to be on his way to the airport to leave freezing Alberta and the dorm behind for the briefest of respites in his hometown of San Diego. Curtis wasn’t just escaping the pre-winter on the Canadian Prairies, he was hoping to spend time with his family on a revered American holiday, beginning as a harvest celebration in 1789 after Congress requested a proclamation by George Washington. Most Americans I’ve known tend to celebrate Thanksgiving on a more serious level than Canadians. During a college course I took in England in the late eighties, the American students sealed a dining room off for their November turkey feast prepared by the kitchen workers. Brits, Scandinavians, Australians, Africans, Latin Americans and Canadians had their suppers in another dining hall, where the meals were dished in half-portions as always.   
For Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of miracles. There are Canadian Thanksgiving pageants in our city streets, but nothing in our country will eclipse the 92nd Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York this year. Americans have even created Thanksgiving cartoons. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. A Garfield Thanksgiving. But, there are similarities between the Canadian and American versions. For instance, both nations enjoy Thanksgiving movies. On American Thanksgivings, Democrats put on The War at Home or Alice’s Restaurant on DVD players and eat popcorn topped with vegan margarine. Republicans stretch on the couches in their living rooms to watch A Walton Thanksgiving and eat ice cream and apple pie. On Canadian Thanksgivings, if we aren’t watching CFL football, we’re watching reruns of American Thanksgiving movies.  
A Thanksgiving movie I’ve always enjoyed reminds me of a personal experience in October 1992. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a 1987 comedy by John Hughes. The movie stars Steve Martin and Canadian actor, John Candy. Steve Martin as Neal Page is an executive who teams up with a curtain ring salesman named Del Griffith, played by Candy. The two go on a disastrous venture halfway across America. Neal, a character with facial expressions best described as permanently constipated, wants to return home to Chicago from New York City for Thanksgiving, but his plans keep going awry.
When I worked at Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park in 1992, I experienced a series of mishaps while hitching through the mountains from BC to Alberta to get home for Thanksgiving. First, I bribed my roommate Ken with a bottle of bourbon to drop me off in his Caprice on the highway nine kilometres from the lake then pick me up in Field on Monday at the Greyhound. When I started on my hitching venture, I wasn’t dressed for mountain weather. Those westerlies flying off the mountaintops were icing my neck, face and hands for much of the day. Also, I could barely keep my eyes open, because I had just finished an overnight shift. There were too many strolls between rides along the TransCanada. The snow started falling sometime after leaving Banff. The long silences between the drivers and myself during the rides were stressful – each of us believing we were concealing unpleasantries. About twelve hours later, I made it home to Didsbury. The warmth, the friendliness and the love from my family after this thumbing calamity through the mountains, foothills and prairies made this Thanksgiving trip worthwhile on a wintry October. To be sure, Ken earned his Jack Daniels after meeting me at the Greyhound station after the Calgary to Vancouver bus stopped in Field on Monday night.         
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a 1987 American comedy film written, produced, and directed by John Hughes. The film stars Steve Martin as Neal Page, a high-strung marketing executive, who meets Del Griffith, played by John Candy, an eternally optimistic, outgoing, overly talkative, and clumsy shower curtain ring salesman. They share a three-day odyssey of misadventures trying to get Neal home to Chicago from New York City in time for Thanksgiving with his family.

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