A Viking Thanksgiving up north
When fiction is funnier than fact
Despite being such good neighbors, many Americans don’t realize that in Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated ahead of the United States. The earliest recorded Canadian Thanksgiving dates back to the year 1578, long before the pilgrims and the Native Americans purportedly feasted at Plymouth Rock in 1621. Many people, however, believe that the Canadian Thanksgiving is based on the start of the harvest, which begins earlier in Canada than it does in the United States—it’s colder up there, you know. Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October each year, whereas the U.S. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
After some misguided use of Wikipedia and some irresponsible googling, I have come up with my own version of how the celebration of Thanksgiving in North America came to be, and, of course, it goes back to the old Norsemen. Leif Erikson and his band of Vikings had landed and settled in L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland over 1,000 years ago. The Vikings had little time for farming and hunting upon their arrival, as they spent most of their time building a long house and various other structures, surviving only on the provisions they had brought with them on their voyage.
They had made friends with the local natives and traded with them for food to supplement their supplies, along with logs, cloth, and other sundry items. One day—it was the second Monday in October—the native chieftain invited the Vikings to his village where they were served wild turkeys roasted on beds of embers.
The Vikings enjoyed the feast so much that they invited the natives to their settlement the following year and served their version of roasted turkeys, which had been stuffed with breadcrumbs and herbs. The natives brought sweet potatoes, squash, and cranberry jam to go with the turkey, and the Viking ladies had baked pumpkin pies. This feast then became an annual event, which they alternately celebrated at each other’s settlements, thanking the native deities, along with Thor and Odin, for their friendly coexistence.
To learn about the Thanksgiving tradition in Canada, visit www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/thanksgiving-day.
This article originally appeared in the November 15, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.