The smell of turkey was unmistakable. Students were piling up platefuls of mashed potatoes and cranberry stuffing, going for second and third servings of pumpkin pie. It was a classic Thanksgiving feast. In October.
To the outside observer, the gathering, held earlier this week in Annenberg and organized by the Harvard Canadian Club, might have seemed like a premature celebration of Turkey Day. But the celebrating students weren’t confused—they were Canadian.
For the past decade, Canadians have been the largest international contingent at Harvard, making up roughly 20 percent of the College’s international students.
Occasionally teased for their national obsession with hockey and sometimes mocked for the way they pronounce words like “out” and “about,” many of Harvard’s Canadians say their celebration of Thanksgiving reveals deeper cultural and political differences that exist between the neighboring countries.
A ‘MORE HONEST’ HOLIDAY?
Differences aside, more than just turkey connects the two holidays.
“When people ask what Canadian Thanksgiving is, I tell them it’s the same idea,” said Sisi Pan ’11 from Edmonton, Alberta. “Canadian Thanksgiving came first, actually.”
The first formal Thanksgiving ceremony in Canada was held by the explorer Martin Frobisher in 1578, 43 years before the celebrations by settlers in Plymouth, Mass. in 1621. Both holidays commemorate the end of the harvest season.
“We have it earlier since it’s colder back home,” Pan added.
The two Thanksgivings have historically been religious observances, though both are now regarded as secular.
Yet even if the holidays seem topically similar, the way in which they are viewed differs.
“I had no idea that Thanksgiving was such a huge holiday here,” said Professor of Chinese History Michael Szonyi, a Torontonian at the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. “In Canada, it’s just about eating... Our holidays are much more honest.”
Psychology Professor Steven Pinker agreed that Americans place more emphasis on Thanksgiving.
“When I was younger, it was a day off school,” said Pinker, a native of Montreal.
TURKEY AND POLITICS
Ignatieff Runs for Prime MinisterAs Canadian undergraduates watch the federal election unfold today in their home country, they will see one candidate who is a fellow Harvardian—Michael G. Ignatieff, a 1976 graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and a former professor at the Kennedy School.