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When we were little kids, my siblings and I often “inherited” gifts and presents that villagers offered to our paternal grandmother during festivals or New Year. In the village, my Grandma was a sage to whom villagers would seek advice when they were entangled in personal turmoil. Her counsel emphasized bonding; reconciliation rather than confrontation and separation. Grandma was revered and treated like a marriage counsellor in North America. Every Tet Festival, my siblings and I were inundated with gifts brought to Grandma from people who listened to her counsel and realized that they had chosen their paths wisely. From that personal experience, I can conclude without hesitation that Vietnamese people are very appreciative.

However, it is not only Vietnamese people who are grateful; other ethnic groups  are also very appreciative. Many animal species are also able to display gratitude. We are quite familiar with stories about wild animals that saved humans who rescued or raised them.

In the Vietnamese language, the two words “favour” and “gratitude” almost always go together. Does it linguistically imply that once a favour is done, gratitude is to be expected?

Canada has Thanksgiving, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Remembrance Day. Vietnam has Vu Lan Festival, Hung Vuong National Ancestor’s Day, Trung Sisters’ Day, as well as other dates assigned to pay tribute to our country’s heroes.

The origin of Canadian Thanksgiving

The notion about Thanksgiving perhaps originated from Harvest Festivals being celebrated all over the world to mark the end of harvest. It is a time to give thanks for the year’s abundance, and wish for bountiful crops for the next. Thanksgiving remains one of the most popular, official Canadian holidays. Unlike Christmas or Easter, its profound moral and religious connotations are largely untainted by commercialism.

Historians do not agree about when the first Thanksgiving in Canada took place. Some chose the year 1578 when the English seaman, Sir Martin Frobisher, gave thanks to God for saving him from a severe storm at sea. Some marked the year 1749 when Halifax was established. Some others considered June 18, 1816 as the date of the first Canadian Thanksgiving, which marked the end of the English-French war.

One thing everybody agrees upon is the fact that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving the same way Americans do, (which began in 1621) namely consuming roast turkey, various squashes and pies at a family or community feast. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, while Americans celebrate in November because harvests in Canada occur earlier than those in the U.S. Canadian Thanksgiving became an annual event in 1879, twelve years after the birth of the country. After the First World War, Thanksgiving and Armistice (later changed to Remembrance) Day were celebrated in Canada on the same day from 1921 to 1931.

[quote_box_right]A familiar symbol seen during the time of Thanksgiving is the “Harvest Doll”, sometimes known as the “Corn Mother”. She is essentially the last sheaf of the harvest grain, dressed up to appear as a woman – usually in a dress and with ribbons.[/quote_box_right]

Being grateful, how?

Besides manifesting itself in festive activities, gratitude is also displayed through many other simple ways such as to be good children to our parents; to be good citizens to the country that accepted us and try not to do harm to it.

Adopted countries may undergo unfair treatment by immigrants since people usually consider those places as a temporary shelter, a transitional place. Immigrants often think about their home countries more than the countries harbouring them. Some people take advantage of the legal loopholes and break the laws of their adopted country, then return to their home country to avoid facing the consequences. A few even commit espionage against the country that harboured them. Fortunately Vietnamese-Canadians don’t stray that far.

In the 80’s, after the closure of most refugee camps in Southeast Asia, the number of Vietnamese refugees that entered Canada was high, mostly thanks to the humanitarian policy of Canada. The government loaned the airfare in advance for new immigrants so that they could leave the camps as soon as possible. As an Immigrant Settlement Counsellor, I often had the chance to translate letters from the Immigration Agency addressed to negligent newcomers with the message, “Your rapid repayment of the loan will help the government bring other refugees to Canada.” The timely repayment in this case, not just displays our gratitude, but also helps other people escape hardship in the camps.

[quote_box_right]Many new immigrants, once settled in the new country, continued to contribute to humanitarian causes by sponsoring others or doing charity work in the community. This is a great way to show their thankfulness.[/quote_box_right]

What’s for Thanksgiving dinner?

The following are likely to be found in a traditional Thanksgiving feast: Roast turkey, venison, bear, pumpkin pie, and cranberries.

For New Canadians coming from Vietnam, other than the dishes mentioned above, our queens (or kings) of the kitchen also prepare delicious dishes both embalmed with Canadian gratitude and redolent with aromas of Viet cuisine.

The other side of the matter…

How about the opposite of gratitude? The intentional forgetting or even denying that others did us favours. The most serious extreme is betrayal.

I believe as humans we are constantly receiving favours from others. Who can deny the hardship of those who struggled on this land before, in an effort to make it livable for us today, or the soldiers who put their lives on the line to fight for the freedom we enjoy today.

Usually when doing favours for others, we do not think of being repaid someday. Unfortunately, not everybody thinks that way. Being an ingrate, though inadvertently, should be avoided. If there are philanthropic people who never carved in their mind good things they did for others, then there are also those who retain every single good deed they granted others, and eagerly take count of all of them. “I did him a favour and he betrays me.” “I sponsored him here; I took good care of him since his first day, and now, look at what he has done…”

On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t have ended the feast full of tasteful dishes with something acrid and overcooked. So, let’s stop here.

Our sincerest appreciation to all of you for supporting and reserving Culture Magazin a cozy corner in your cultural sanctuary. Have a Thanksgiving redolent with Love for Humanity!