The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Harvest Thanksgiving: Trinity XVIII

Morning Prayer

Psalms 65, 67

Deuteronomy 8

Revelation 14

Collect of the Day

O Almighty God,who crownest the year with thy goodness, and hast given unto us the fruits of the earth in their season: Give us grateful hearts, that we may unfeignedly thank thee for all thy loving-kindness, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A brief history lesson. Did you know that Americans did not invent Thanksgiving? On this side of the Atlantic, the first North American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1578 when the English navigator, Martin Frobisher, held a formal ceremony in Newfoundland. He did this to give thanks for surviving the long sea journey; and, as other settlers arrived in Newfoundland, the tradition was continued by them.

Frobisher's celebration in 1578 was more than 40 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, and themselves gave thanks in 1621 for the bounty that ended a year of hardships and death. Abraham Lincoln later established a date for the United States Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. In 1941, US Congress set the National Holiday as the fourth Thursday in November.

But prior to both of these, for centuries European farmers had held celebrations at harvest time. To give thanks for their good fortune and the abundance of food, the farm workers filled a curved goat's horn with fruit and grain. This symbol was called a cornucopia or horn of plenty. When they came to Canada, sometime after Martin Frobisher, they brought this tradition with them – thus the symbol of the cornucopia at Harvest Thanksgiving. As to the custom of what constitutes the proper feast: turkey, goose, ham, various vegetables, pumpkin pie, there are very many separate traditions that have all contributed to the festival.

The Canadian Thanksgiving makes an interesting counterpoint to the holiday celebrated by our southern neighbour. As mentioned earlier, the first North American thanksgiving event occurred in Newfoundland in 1578. Our French heritage also contributes to our Canadian tradition In the 1600s, Samuel de Champlain and the French Settlers who came with him established an “Order of Good Cheer.” This group would hold huge celebrations marking the harvests and other events, sharing their food with Native American neighbours. With our finally settling on the celebration being one primarily for thanksgiving as it relates to harvest, it is not surprising that our Canadian date should occur earlier than the corresponding festival in the United States what with the necessity in our climate of harvesting crops somewhat earlier than they. But it took quite some time for us to settle on the second Monday in October as our Canadian Thanksgiving.

Prior to Confederation, in Upper and Lower Canada and then the Province of Canada as we were known in the thirty or so years prior to 1867, there were various observances at random times of particular years, sometimes in thanks for the abundance of harvest, but more often in thanks for God’s mercies and in prayer for their continuance; and also in thanks for the end of wars or disease and in prayer for peace.

The first post-Confederation Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated on April 15, 1872 in thanks for the recovery of the future King Edward VII from a serious illness. The next Thanksgiving didn’t occur until 1879 when it was celebrated on a Thursday in November.

From 1879 to 1898, it was observed on a Thursday in November. In 1899, it was fixed on a Thursday in October, where it stayed until 1907, with the exception of 1901 and 1904 when the date was fixed on a Thursday in November.

From 1908 to 1921, it was observed on a Monday in October, the exact date being appointed by proclamation. All of these observances were for “blessings of harvest.” Interspersed from time to time were thanksgivings for signal events in the life of the Royal family, such as Queen Victoria’s Jubilee or Edward VII’s coronation. These, of course, took place at other times of the year.

From 1921 to 1930, the Armistice Day Act provided that Thanksgiving would be observed on Armistice Day, which was fixed by statute on the Monday of the week in which November 11 fell.

In 1931, Parliament adopted an Act to amend the Armistice Day Act, providing that the day should be observed on November 11 and that the day should be known as “Remembrance Day”.

Accordingly, the old practice was resumed of fixing Thanksgiving Day by proclamation, and it has been since 1931 on the second Monday of October, with the exception of 1935 where, after Thanksgiving Day had been fixed on October 14, it was decided to hold the general election on that date. A new proclamation was issued deferring the observance to October 24, a Thursday. This resulted in a great deal of controversy and the practice of observance on a Thursday was not pursued in future years.

From 1936 to 1956, inclusive, a proclamation was issued yearly to appoint the second Monday of October as Thanksgiving Day. All of these Thanksgiving Days from 1931 to 1956 were, by proclamation, “for general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured.” In 1957, this very wording, “for general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured,” became a permanent proclamation by our federal government, fixing the date as the second Monday in October.

It is often a very revealing exercise to dig thusly into the relatively brief history of our country. Today, very, very many people in Canada, most especially it seems those who were actually born here, can be seen rolling their eyes when someone on the public stage states a simple truth as it relates to our history – said truth usually being about our Christian heritage. And here, pondering Jesus’ words in Chapter 8 of Mark’s and Chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” I was going to say something treasonous about our current and previous Prime Ministers being largely culpable for this, claiming themselves to be Christian, while at the same time, through their policies, purging both our laws and the public collective consciousness of Christian values, also swaying public opinion against her Majesty’s loyal opposition who seem far less ashamed of our Christian heritage. Oops, I just did say that!

But we are here, celebrating Harvest Thanksgiving, and we should be thankful that not all federal political Christian consciousness has expired; that our government still proclaims a “general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured.”

As we gather today, in a warm building, knowing that an abundant feast of thanksgiving awaits us following the service, may we, along with all in our country, both Christian and not, be aware of those who do not know where or when their next meal may come, and for whom such a thanksgiving is therefore empty. In our abundance and to our shame, we might tend to forget not only them, but also our Lord’s teaching that He is the true Bread from heaven. Let us therefore be prayerfully mindful of our Lord’s teachings; how we must commit to share our bounty with the less fortunate, and together with them to seek always Him Who is the true Bread of Life.

Additionally, in a society so staggeringly wealthy as ours, with unprecedented accumulation of goods by the typical citizen, it is so very easy to forget the One Who is the Source of all of this bounty; to give ourselves the credit for our prosperity and material blessings. A reading of the Old Testament will reveal that this attitude is nothing new under the sun – the Israelites on many occasions would forget that it was God Who had provided for them, failing to give Him the appropriate credit or thanks. Let us pray also that we become not like those rebellious and gainsaying generations.

“O Almighty God and heavenly Father, we glorify thee that we are once more permitted to enjoy the fulfilment of thy gracious promise, that, while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest shall not fail. Blessed be thou, who hast given us the fruits of the earth in their season. Teach us to remember that it is not by bread alone that man doth live; but grant that we may feed on him who is the true bread which cometh down from heaven, even Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour; to whom with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Spirit, be honour and glory, for ever and ever.” Amen.



The Lesson
Isaiah 55:1-3, 10-12

John 6:27-35

Evening Prayer

Psalms 147

Deuteronomy 28 : 1-14

Matthew 13 :18-30