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The Annual Thanksgiving Jam.

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I love Thanksgiving.  It’s like Christmas without the retail hook and hassle.  In Canada it’s a fairly low-key, somewhat muted holiday.  I find this understatement peculiar, since we celebrate in October, which is smack-dab in middle of Autumn’s glory. In most of our country, it’s a month of colorful spectacle.  Fall is strutting her stuff.  Showing off in every possible way.  Crisp days.  Big blue skies.  All those bold radiant colors.  Red and orange dominate the scene.

But in typical Canadian fashion there isn’t a lot of hoopla around this holiday.  Perhaps because it falls during a month when we have a fun and flamboyant fete. Creepy costumes and free candy are far more compelling than counting your blessings and gobbling turkey. Maybe having two holidays in the same month is just too much merriment and mirth.  Thanksgiving is like the peas of October.  You just want to get it over with so you can get onto the good stuff.  Have some dessert.  Lick your lips.  Let it all hang out. 

At the end of the day, there’s just none of the fanfare that our southern neighbors bestow on their holiday of the same name.  No Macy’s Parade. No colossal pro football marathons.  This isn’t our biggest travel time of the year. We don’t flock from hither and yon to be together.  That’s what we do at Christmas. Plus, the next day isn’t Black Friday, the American fever-pitched super-sized shopping day of the year.

That’s just not us.

Technically the Canadian Thanksgiving occurs on the second Monday in October.  However, I doubt many of us actually celebrate on that day.  I bet if we took a poll, we’d discover many of us “do it” on the Sunday.  This allows at least one full day for recovery. It’s damn near impossible to fill your face with a ton of tryptophan-laced turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, canned or homemade cranberry sauce, a buffet of sauce-laden vegetables, copious amounts of wine or beer, ridiculous amounts of sweets, not to mention pumpkin pie, all topped off with strong freshly brewed coffee, with or without a hit of Baileys.  You can’t possibly expect to go to work or school or daycare the next day.  Seriously, can you?   No.

The Americans get Black Friday and Christmas shopping.  We get an alarm clock catapulting us from our collective Canadian tryptophan comas.  It’s a deplorable first world problem.

So in full-out Canadian style rebellion we celebrate a day earlier.  It’s defiant I know.  I guess to be fair, and God knows I’m all about fairness, not all Canadians do this.  But this is the way it goes down at our house. And has, for as far back as I can remember.  I’m a real stickler for family traditions. Just the way I roll. Or rock.  Bang my head and fall over.

When I was younger I completely overlooked, and took for granted, the “thanks” in Thanksgiving.  I didn’t appreciate the earth’s bountiful harvest, its lavish cornucopia.  All that was lost on me.  Christmas was the shining star, the big holiday kahuna and nothing could compare. It was all I could think about from the moment the Maple trees, that lined our street, turned from green to gold.  Yes, the family meal was delicious.  And yes, having a long weekend in the middle of October was nice too.  But beyond that, it was a lukewarm holiday at best.  No matter how hard Ma tried to make it lovely and festive.  It was never more than a pre-curser to Christmas. Well into adulthood I was still wishy-washy when it came to Thanksgiving.

But that all changed about twenty years ago.

Something wonderful and miraculous and completely unexpected happened.  It began with a casual impromptu jam on the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend.  It was unplanned. Unrehearsed. Unscheduled. Nothing fancy. No big fuss.  Beer and chips.  Maybe a crudites or two tossed together.  A few bluegrass musicians.  And a whole lot of really fine music.  Little did we know that this modest unpretentious shindig would blossom into something legendary.  At least in our circle, amongst our tribe.  That first Saturday night grew into something so glorious and stupendous.  One of the highlights of our year. Talked about for days and weeks afterwards.  Imagine that.

Quite simply, on that Saturday night twenty years ago, our Thanksgiving was transformed.  A new tradition arose from the ashes of apathy.

The following year we planned the occasion.  Somewhat.  We invited a few more jammers, family and friends to join us for an evening of appies and music.  It was still an intimate and non-ostentatious affair. A kitchen party through and through.  But the day after, basking in the glow of an evening done well, we began planning the next one.  By year three, we opened our home to even more musicians, family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.  There was a generous overflow of musical talent, food, laughter, kindness, joy, love and memories.  Beautiful memories.

Thus began B and E’s Annual Thanksgiving Jam.

For over a decade we gathered for these jams on the Saturday night.  The morning after, I would wake up early to put the turkey on for our traditional family dinner.  This was a smaller, more intimate festivity attended by our immediate family and a few close friends. 

We celebrated and gave thanks this way for well over a decade.  The Saturday Night Jam and the Sunday Family Feast.  Weeks of planning and preparing food followed by two intense days of celebration became too much for this old broad.  E and I made the decision to combine the jam with the feast, pare back the guest list to a manageable number and host a less demanding Thanksgiving Jam on the Sunday evening.  This has been pleasant and enjoyable.  But just not the same.

Last Thanksgiving we had no idea what was in store for us.  E may have had some inkling because the cancer was brewing in his body.  But the rest of us were clueless.  It was a big year.  One that took its toll.  Drained us both physically and emotionally.  We were often in the mud wrestling with the devil.  Other times we danced and soared with the angels.  We were all over the place spiritually.  E has had his recovery to contend with.  But so have I.  Sometimes I think he’s farther along that road than me.  I’m still untrusting of the process of life.  Wary and weary at times.

But we’re here.  I’m grateful for that.

And because we’re so very grateful, E and I decided that this year we would resurrect our Annual Saturday Night Thanksgiving Jam.  We’re doing this thing.  Celebrating the past year and all that it has taught us.  We’re celebrating our life. Our family. Friends. Music. Laughter. Joy.  Love. There will be turkey and ham and all the traditional trimmings. There will be apple and pumpkin pies.  Autumn will be showing off.  So will we.

And our hearts.  Our sweet Canadian hearts will give thanks for the opulent abundance that is all around us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

This is a song I wrote around this time last year. I got the chance to perform it at the Victoria Bluegrass Association's open stage a few nights ago with my band, the newest (6th? or maybe 16th.) incarnation of the Riverside Bluegrass Band. It has been a wild year for me breaking out of my comfort zone, learning a new style of music that really speaks to my soul and meeting so many incredible musical minds in this place I've decided to call my home. I'm especially lucky to have met these wonderful dudes. Blake Candy (banjo) and I have become attached at the hip when it comes to music, playing wherever we can with whoever will have us and hitting the streets to busk in between. Eric Adams (bass) lends his irresistible old-man rock n' roll charm to all that we do, and he has been so excited and gracious to have us take the reins of his old band. Ben Barrett-Forrest (fiddle) has come along recently to work that bow like a madman and we couldn't be happier to have him filling out our sound with his soaring leads. Rumour has it the VBA might have us back in the new year as a feature act!!!

Posted by Danny Eberhardt on Friday, November 29, 2019