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Thanksgiving: one festival, one continent but contrasting rituals…

Thanksgiving is on the horizon and will be celebrated on Thursday, the 25th of November this year. Observed annually in the United States and Canada, Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the previous year. Strange though it may seem, Thanksgiving is celebrated differently by Americans and Canadians.

Canadians and Thanksgiving
Many people are surprised to know that Canadians also celebrate Thanksgiving. People from other countries think Thanksgiving as something that belongs to United States, most likely due to what they see in movies and on TV.

The Canadian and American Thanksgiving celebrations may appear very similar at first glance, but there are some key differences that make a Canadian Thanksgiving celebration unique. Let’s start with the date! Canadian Thanksgiving falls on a Monday in October! Over the years, the tradition of Thanksgiving has moved around a lot, but in 1957, the Canadian government decided that the second Monday in October would be the official date.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving earlier than Americans for two reasons: First, the harvest is ready earlier in the year because of the colder climate, and second, Thanksgiving in November could coincide with another important Canadian holiday called Remembrance Day.


American and Canadian Thanksgiving have similar but different origins. Many of us know the story of the American Thanksgiving from 1621, but few know how Canadian Thanksgiving came to be an important Canadian tradition. Some experts believe Canadian Thanksgiving may date back further than the famous Pilgrims’ feast. Originally, Thanksgiving was a gathering and a meal for the first explorers in the new world to thank God for keeping them safe. The earliest known mention of this kind of ‘thanks-giving’ meals dates back to 1578, according to National Geographic. Martin Frobisher and his crew were the first explorers to enjoy a meal together and give thanks.

It’s a time to thank God!
A special meal of biscuits, salt beef, and peas was served to Frobisher and his crew as thanksgiving for the safe passage through the North-West Passage (what is now the territory of Nunavut in Canada). Thanksgiving was not declared a national holiday in Canada until 1859, a full four years earlier than in the United States (it became one in 1863).

It took the Canadian government almost a century to settle on a date for the holiday, even though it was declared a national holiday first. From 1859 to 1957, the holiday was celebrated on various dates ranging from April to November.

Enjoy family time and indulge
Thanksgiving in Canada, however, is primarily regarded as a secular holiday these days. Thanksgiving simply marks the ‘start of the Fall season’ and reminds us to be thankful for good friends, family, and seasonal food. Consequently, this brings us to the next key difference between Canadian and American Thanksgiving – Canadian Thanksgiving is MUCH more relaxed. Parades, football, and over-the-top feasts are American traditions.

In most provinces in Canada, Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday; however, it is an optional holiday in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Moreover, according to Bustle, most Quebecers don’t even bother celebrating the holiday! Those of us who do celebrate Thanksgiving usually just enjoy a meal with family and/or friends.

Hikes for Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day hikes to enjoy the beautiful fall leaves are common during October. Also, since the actual holiday falls on a Monday, most families choose to celebrate the big feast on Saturday or Sunday, and use Monday as a day to travel or recover from the holiday. Neither Black Friday nor Cyber Monday are part of Canadian Thanksgiving. A post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy isn’t really happening. Halloween candy is the only intense shopping to be done after Thanksgiving, when sales are on in October. Canada, like many other countries, has now begun to engage in November’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, particularly with online shopping….but that all happens in November, long after Thanksgiving here in Canada.

Food on Thanksgiving
The food at Thanksgiving is another difference between Canadians and Americans. Upon first glance, it may appear the same in many households: turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, root vegetables, and pumpkin pies. You may eat differently depending on where you grew up, the food, and how hard-core Canadian you are.

Traditional Canadian Thanksgiving foods include tourtiere, a French-Canadian meat pie, and roast ham. A Canadian Thanksgiving table does not include two dishes that are popular in the United States: cornbread and sweet potato and marshmallow casserole.


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