It’s often said that 50% of being Canadian is not being American. The United States and Canada are two of the most similar cultures in the world. Yet, there are also many critical differences. So, this month we’re exploring why Canadian Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving take place on different days…
Canadians celebrated it first
You’ll likely never hear a typically modest Canadian boast about this fact. But, the first Canadian Thanksgiving ceremony took place 43 years before the first US one! It dates back to 1578, when the English explorer Martin Frobisher arrived in New Foundland and gave thanks for his safe arrival. The US tradition associated with the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts “only” began in 1621.
A history of change
Similar to the US, there are several key dates in the holiday’s history. Also, there were a lot of intermittent celebrations before the establishment of a fixed date:
- 1872: Canadians gave thanks for the recovery of King Edward VII from an illness; therefore, the holiday was in April
- 1879: The next time a Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada was in November
- 1899: Thanksgiving is moved to a Thursday in October
- 1901-1922: Thanksgiving moves between October and November dates
- 1957: Parliament declares Thanksgiving to be the 2nd Monday in October
Thanksgiving marks a traditional celebration of the fall season. The harvest arrives earlier in Canada than the US because it is geographically further north. Therefore, so does the holiday.
While Thanksgiving is celebrated nationally in Canada, it is considered a “statutory” holiday. As a result, provinces and territories can legislate it locally. In Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, Thanksgiving is optional.
Turkey Time ≠ Shopping Time
Canadian Thanksgiving includes turkey and traditional harvest foods like corn, squash, pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. While the holiday is officially on Monday, many families have Thanksgiving dinner and get togethers over the weekend. There’s no equivalent of the US Black Friday extravaganza on this Canadian holiday. Rather, Canadians go all out shopping on Boxing Day (December 26th), similar to Australians and the British.
Whether due to history, the time of the year, the day of the week, or simply the low-key nature of Canadian culture, Thanksgiving is not as big of a deal in Canada as it is in the US, where it rivals Christmas in importance.
Let’s celebrate the holiday’s roots and identity and wish all Canadians a Happy Thanksgiving!