This Thursday, at some point in the festivities we’ll be remembering the Pilgrims and their Indian guests on that first Thanksgiving Day in the New World. After all, that gathering was the genesis of today’s San Diego Harbor Island Thanksgiving Day celebration.
Or was it?
This momentary doubt surfaced when someone mentioned the Canadian Thanksgiving celebration. When you think about it, how likely it is that our Neighbors to the North would create a national holiday to memorialize some ancient Massachusetts get-together? Pretty unlikely.
So if their Thanksgiving doesn’t celebrate the day the Pilgrims feasted with their new Wampanoag friends, what does it celebrate?
The Canadian version is said to be offshoots of the Old World’s “Harvest Festivals.” According to England’s Metro News, “Harvest Festival in Britain is the ancient festival that celebrates a successful yield.” It’s a “Sunday of Thanksgiving” observed on the Sunday closest to the harvest moon (this year, it came on September 23). European Harvest Festivals are said to be remnants of pre-Christian harvest festivals, during which corn dolls are traditionally fashioned from “the last sheath of the harvest.” You can find many pictures of the corn dolls (they call them ‘dollies’). No Indian tribes. No turkeys.
Pagan festivals and dollies? Does this put the accuracy of all San Diego Harbor Island elementary school bulletin boards with their Pilgrim hats and turkey displays in jeopardy? Fortunately, there’s a problem with the Pilgrim-less version.
According to the British press, the corn dolls are “meant to symbolize the pagan goddess of the grain”—which would definitely predate Christianity altogether. But the fact is, corn was unknown in Europe until it was brought by Columbus from the New World. So the corn doll/pre-Christian link doesn’t work, time-wise.
I think we can safely bypass other Thanksgiving legends and just stick to our own story. San Diego Harbor Island’s Thanksgiving can continue to be the once-a-year occasion to remember its true spirit—a day we celebrate our gratitude for all we have and love.
Here’s hoping your celebration is delightful and fulfilling. Happy Thanksgiving!