Expat Files: Why Don’t We Make Hand Turkeys?

I distinctly recall during my first year here in Canada, as the calendar moved into October, being excited to celebrate my first Thanksgiving in Canada – or as we call it in the States, “Canadian Thanksgiving”.  I kept waiting for the teachers in the youngest grades to start teaching the (Canadian) Thanksgiving story, primarily so I could learn it, and for the school to start to fill with hand-turkeys and whatever the equivalent of Pilgrim hats and Native American headdresses would be.

Nope!

Depending on who I spoke with and what their understanding was, I learned two things pretty early:

  1. Canadian Thanksgiving ain’t American Thanksgiving.
  2. Jews don’t really do Canadian Thanksgiving.

Now neither is technically nor universally true.  There is a LOT that is the same between how Thanksgiving came to be in both places and what traditions have built up around them.  You have an origin story centered around a ship’s arrival to a new land.  You have a deep connection to the harvest.  You even have football (if you want to call the CFL “football)!  For my American friends who want a primer on competing Thanksgivings, this is my recommendation.

And there are Jews who celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada (and not just American expats who do it November)!  However, it does play out differently here.  Some say it is because it so much closer to the Jewish High Holidays and Sukkot that the big ideas – harvest, family and gratitude – have already been addressed and so there isn’t a need to do it all over again so soon.  (Sometimes it falls during the Jewish holidays.)  Some say that it – in Canada – had or has Christian overtones that make it feel less comfortable for Jews to fully embrace.  But there are plenty of Jewish families in Canada who will do up the whole thing.  For my American friends who want a primer on why Jews are less likely to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, this is my recommendation.

More important than of this, of course, is the opportunity that Thanksgiving grants me to write a blog post of gratitude.  (When you commit to writing a weekly post, you have to take your inspiration when it comes.)  I focus my energy around Rosh Hashanah to do a bit of annual reflection.  I focus my energy around Yom Kippur to lean into forgiveness.  I focus my energy around Sukkot to encourage new practices and traditions.  Starting now, I think it will be my tradition – my way of connecting to Thanksgiving in Canada – to have an annual opportunity to focus my energy on gratitude.  (That way, I can still make the focus of American Thanksgiving – which my family still celebrates – on overeating and overwatching football.)

What I am grateful for this Thanksgiving:

  • never get political in my blog, but I don’t think it will make huge waves to say that I am very grateful that we are living here in Canada during this most interesting of times on our continent.
  • I am grateful for the technology that keeps me connected to friends and family.  Living through a pandemic 20 years ago would be unimaginable without FaceTime and Zoom and Google Meet.  That we get to “see” parents and grandparents across closed borders and thousands of miles is truly a modern-day miracle.
  • I am eternally grateful to have a wife, Jaimee, whose Type A/perfectionist mothering and wife-ing creates so much space for me to dedicate my time and energy to my work and my passion.
  • I am thankful to have landed in a Jewish community that is extraordinarily capable and generous; a community that is committed to its future by its support for Jewish day school.
  • I am grateful to have landed in a Jewish day school that is full of committed, talented, caring, innovating and hardworking teachers.  A school is only as good as its teachers and we have a pretty great school!

I could go on, of course, but let me just say that I am also grateful to anyone and everyone who has ever read, shared, or commented on one of my 350+ blog posts over the years.  You often wonder/worry that you are speaking into the wind, but every now and again someone takes the time to let you know that they are, in fact, paying attention.  And that always feels great.

Feel free to share what you are grateful for in the comments or, more importantly, with friends and family.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

One thought on “Expat Files: Why Don’t We Make Hand Turkeys?”

  1. I am grateful for a school where I know my daughter is being cared for and educated, that is taking safety protocols seriously and I can feel comfortable sending her off every morning. I am grateful that every school morning she’s happy and excited to learn, mask and all! Thank you!

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