In the United States, Thanksgiving is one of the biggest holidays of the year. But did you know that Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, too? Here are a few of the key differences between American and Canadian Thanksgiving!
Canadian Thanksgiving is in October—and on a Monday, That’s right! Canadian Thanksgiving happens a full month and a half before American Thanksgiving, on the second Monday in October (Monday, October 10, 2022).
Everyone seems to know the story of the first American Thanksgiving in 1621, but do you know how Canadian Thanksgiving came about? In fact, the first Canadian Thanksgiving may have even pre-dated the Pilgrims’ big meal.
The tradition of Thanksgiving originated with the harvest festival—an autumnal celebration meant to show appreciation for the bountiful harvest of the season. However, Canadian Thanksgiving was originally less about celebrating the harvest and more about thanking God for keeping early explorers safe as they ventured into the New World.
In that sense of “thanks-giving,” the earliest report of such a dinner dates back to 1578, when English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew held a special meal to thank God for granting them safe passage through northern North America, into what is today the Canadian Territory of Nunavut.
The first Thanksgiving after Canadian Confederation didn’t happen until April 1872, when the holiday was observed to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a serious illness.
Today, the tradition of Thanksgiving has come full circle, and it’s primarily seen as a time to gather the family, mark the start of autumn, and celebrate the harvest and good food of the season.
What Do People Do?
Many people have a day off work on the second Monday of October. They often use the three-day Thanksgiving weekend to visit family or friends who live far away, or to receive them in their own homes. Many people also prepare a special meal to eat at some point during the long weekend. Traditionally, this included roast turkey and seasonal produce, such as pumpkin, corn ears and pecan nuts. Now, the meal may consist of other foods, particularly if the family is of non-European descent.
The Thanksgiving weekend is also a popular time to take a short autumn vacation. This may be the last chance in a while for some people to use cottages or holiday homes before winter sets in. Other popular activities include outdoor breaks to admire the spectacular colors of the Canadian autumn, hiking, and fishing. Fans of the teams in the Canadian Football League may spend part of the weekend watching the Thanksgiving Day Classic matches.
Thanksgiving is one of the biggest holidays of the year in the United States—with huge parades, massive feasts, and football—but it’s decidedly lower key in Canada. Although the holiday is still widely celebrated in Canada and is a statutory holiday in most of the country*, Canadians’ approach to Thanksgiving is a bit more laid back.
(*The exceptions are the Atlantic provinces, where the holiday is an optional day off, and in Quebec, where the holiday isn’t as popular overall.)
Thanksgiving in Canada involves families coming together to eat turkey and celebrate the harvest, but relatives don’t tend to travel as far across the country like they might in the United States. And because the holiday takes place in early October, the weather is usually still suitable for a Thanksgiving Day hike or vacation—a tradition that many Canadians readily take part in ahead of the long winter. Plus, because the holiday falls on a Monday, the Thanksgiving feast may instead take place on Saturday or Sunday.
Thanksgiving meals vary by province, so if you’re new to Canada you can also create your own tradition. Families in Newfoundland typically enjoy what’s known as a Jigg’s Dinner. A Jigg’s Dinner is a boiled meat dish accompanied by a split-pea pudding, which is not too far off from the original Thanksgiving meal shared by the explorers.
In Ontario, families also enjoy sweet butter tarts or syrup-filled pastry shells. Across the country, Canadians typically finish the meal with a spicy pumpkin pie topped with cloves, ginger, and cinnamon for dessert.
Similar to Americans, Canadians enjoy football and sports on Thanksgiving, and the Canadian Football League televises its own football doubleheader known as the Thanksgiving Day Classic. There are also Thanksgiving Day parades for families and children to enjoy. The biggest and most well-known is the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Thanksgiving Day Parade, which airs on Thanksgiving Day with over 120 floats.
Although you might expect hockey to take the place of traditional Thanksgiving Day football, football is part of the Thanksgiving tradition in Canada, too. Each year, the annual Thanksgiving Day Classic doubleheader is broadcast nationwide, wherein four teams from the CFL (Canadian Football League) play for Thanksgiving glory!