A Canadian Reminiscences about American Thanksgiving

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By Alexandria Fanjoy

Canadian FlagOne of my best friends is a speech pathologist. She regularly tells me that I have a “cross bred” accent: some bizarre mutt mix of Toronto, Boston and (oddly) a bit of Michigan thrown in there. While I’m sure that this is not meant as a compliment in any way, it is always a nice reminder to me of my very happy years spent in Boston as a graduate student. As a Canadian, I, of course, pride myself on my Canadian identity, customs, traditions and health care, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t miss Boston, the U.S., and some of the awesome traditions that go along with that on an almost daily basis.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that is distinctly American—and distinctly awesome. One of my happiest memories from graduate school is when my friend Katie and I (two of the many Canadians in our program) cooked a huge Thanksgiving dinner for all the Canadians and others who chose not to go home. Even as Canadians, it was such a meaningful experience to partake in a holiday that is both so similar and different from ours, and was such a quintessential part of the community we had chosen to be a part of.

For the record, Canadian Thanksgiving (cough…real Thanksgiving…cough) falls on the second weekend in October and has absolutely nothing to do with Native Americans. It actually has two potential themes: one is just a generic blessing of the harvest; the other has a more historical base. As any viewers of “How I Met Your Mother” will know, Canadian Thanksgiving is based on the explorer Martin Frobisher’s ultimately failed attempt to find the Northwest Passage. At the depths of despair on this failing expedition, the religious man on board exhorted them to praise God for everything they had, and they made a festival meal together. Apparently this worked (I might have let the weather get me down), and although they never found what they were looking for, they returned to search again. (Seriously. I may love Canada, but this one I just don’t understand.)

However, despite any differences in the source, the traditions are basically the same: football, a soporific meal of turkey and an excuse to bring family far and wide together. This year for Jews, it’s an even more exciting holiday, as the first day of Hanukkah falls on the same day. What’s interesting is that the two holidays actually have a lot in common—although they may be more on the superficial level. We celebrate with lots of unhealthy food (check for both holidays) and family fun (check again), and perhaps some fun familial sports events.

While Thanksgiving always gets attention as the holiday that starts off the Christmas season, perhaps this is a fun opportunity to blend our own holidays. In fact, one entrepreneurial 9-year-old, Asher Weintraub, has created a “Menurkey”: a menorah shaped as a turkey, with its feathers as the branches. How about some latkes and turkey? Sufganiyot as the proverbial afikomen after a festive meal? No doubt this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Jews in America (and wanna-be or former Americans up here to the North) to blend one of America’s fun holidays with one of our happiest.

Chag sameach and happy eating!

Alexandria Fanjoy is a lover of all things Jewish: camp, schools and, of course, chicken soup. She went to graduate school at Brandeis University and is currently working at a Jewish high school in Toronto while earning her Ph.D. in Jewish education.

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