Published: October 10, 2020 | Updated: October 21, 2020
Canadian Thanksgiving is more than the turkey dinner with all the trimmings and festivities. Why is Thanksgiving in Canada different from the U.S.?
Canadian Thanksgiving takes place annually on the second Monday of October. The timing concurs with the end of the harvest season in most Canadian provinces. Before 1957, the date was sporadic.
It’s a statutory holiday in most parts of the country except in the Atlantic provinces. In Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s an optional holiday.
Thanksgiving in Canada coincides with Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States. American Thanksgiving is a national holiday that falls on the fourth Thursday of November.
Origin of Thanksgiving
“The first known use of the word Thanksgiving in English text was in a translation of the bible in 1533, which was intended as an act of giving thanks to God,” according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.
In Canada, the annual holiday is a time for harvest celebrations, family gatherings, and to kick start the fall season. Indigenous communities have always observed this tradition since time immemorial.
Brian Rice told CBC’s Weekend Morning that Thanksgiving is originally an Indigenous ceremony that has been practised for thousands of years. Rice is an assistant professor in the department of religion at the University of Winnipeg and a member of the Mohawk nation.
In his interview, he is quoted saying, “It was a coming together of Indigenous Peoples really feeding the colonizers, or the colonists.” They feed them with food gathered from the land and taught them to survive in the harsh Canadian landscape and weather.
Indigenous people celebrate Thanksgiving for enduring winter, and their rewards are harvest crops and wild game. Festivity would include activities such as communal feasting, dancing, prayer, and potlatch ceremony.
First North American Thanksgiving
It’s common knowledge that the early pilgrim settlers celebrated the first North American Thanksgiving at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts in 1621.
But one may argue that the first celebration was actually held in Canada.
History has it that English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew celebrated Thanksgiving in Nunavut, Canada in 1578.
So the first recorded Canadian Thanksgiving actually predates the American celebration by 43 years. Is that why the turkey subtly arrives on the Canadian table first?
Turkey, Cranberries, and More
Beans, corn, cranberries, nuts, and squash are some of the traditional Indigenous Thanksgiving foods. Protein came from fish (salmon) and game (elk, caribou). Others include wild birds like pheasant, grouse, and turkey. Thanksgiving food for Frobisher and his crew was salt beef, biscuits, and mushy peas.
The food menu has since evolved and expanded to include other cultural cuisines. Ham, roast lamb, cornbread, rice, and mashed potatoes with gravy are common these days.
Although Canadian Thanksgiving staples are similar to American, butter tarts, Nanaimo bar, and Jiggs’ dinner are not on a typical American menu. Jiggs’ is a traditional Newfoundland dinner of boiled meat (usually salt beef), turnip, cabbage, potato, carrot, split peas, and a dessert
Shopping, Sports and Parade
Canadian celebration is better than American as it’s less of a consumerism-driven holiday. American Thanksgiving is more commercialized with a significant focus on shopping and entertainment. Americans traditionally watch football on Thanksgiving weekend.
The day after the turkey dinner, the crazy shopping for the best Black Friday deals begins. People crowd the streets of New York for a glimpse of giant floats and entertainment at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Canadians enjoy quieter activities such as basking in the fall colours, raking leaves, closing up the cottage for winter. Some head to the apple farm or pumpkin patch.
While Canadian Thanksgiving has its cultural and religious roots, the holiday serves to remind how thankful and blessed Canadians are to live in a country of peace, opportunity, and freedom.