What do you Mean There’s a Canadian Thanksgiving?

November 20, 2017 Nila Choudhury     KissMeImNila

Thanksgiving is here and Americans are preparing to devour plates full of turkey, stuffing, and pie. But did you know our Canadian neighbors have already celebrated Thanksgiving?

Wait. Didn’t you know Canadians had their own Thanksgiving?

Don’t worry fellow American, many don’t know that our neighbors to the north also celebrate the holiday. Though their origins vary, American and Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations actually have a lot in common. They both celebrate the concept of giving, being thankful for all that you have and the fall harvest.

Want to know what other traditions Canadian and American Thanksgiving celebrations have in common? Check out all you need to know about Canadian Thanksgiving!

When is Thanksgiving?

Historically the dates of Thanksgiving in Canada and America varied for many years until it was legislatively set on a single day. Lower and Upper Canada used to celebrate the holiday on different days until it was determined by law as a national holiday by Parliment in 1879. It used to be celebrated on Nov. 6 but in 1956 the date was changed to the second Monday of October. Canadian Thanksgiving is actually Columbus day in America.


In the States, the celebration had a similar pattern, taking part sporadically throughout the years to celebrate the arrival of new settlers or new harvest. The first official proclamation of Thanksgiving being a national holiday was in 1777, but many years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the second to last Thursday of every November as Thanksgiving.

What do you do on Thanksgiving?

Canadian Thanksgivings are a lot quieter than American Thanksgivings. For Canadians, there are no huge parades, rush at airports, jams on the road or sports games relatives are fussing over. Actually, Canadians usually do have a football game on Thanksgiving day but it’s just not as big a deal as it is in the States.

It’s so low-key some cities in Canada don’t even celebrate it, like Quebec.  The Canadian version of Thanksgiving is simpler and focuses on quality time with the family. People tend to visit friends and family but not travel far distances to do so like Americans. Some families start putting up Christmas decorations or take part in outdoor activities such as hikes or long strolls through the countryside while the weather is still nice.

Why Is This Even a Holiday?

In Canada, the celebration originally was to give thanks for the safe arrival of arctic explorer Martin Frobisher in 1578 after a rough journey from England. On one of his many trips to the continent of America, Frobisher could not find the Northwest Passage and landed in Newfoundland. It was the first known celebration of the holiday but many reasons came about over the years to celebrate. After the Seven Days War in 1763, the celebration of thanks spread to other parts of the country like Novia Scotia. It was once celebrated for the end of the war of 1812 between Great Britain and France. It was also celebrated for the end of the Lower Canadian rebellion. There was no consistent day or reasoning to celebrate the holiday in Canada until it was legally determined.

Americans, too, had multiple Thanksgiving celebrations with the arrival of European settlers. It became a routine holiday as early 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia, to give thanks for the blessings they had and hope for a good fall harvest. Similar to Canada’s history of the holiday, it was celebrated for many reasons over the years in America as well commemorating events like the end of wars, the arrival of new settlers, expansion, good harvests, etc. It was celebrated at different times in different states and in 1777 was the first national proclamation of the Continental Congress naming Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

So…what do we eat?

Thanksgiving meals are the same for both holidays. Canadians and Americans celebrate with roast turkey as the centerpiece with sides of cornbread and fall vegetables like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green bean casseroles.


What meal is complete without dessert? Both countries usually serve pie, especially pumpkin pie for dessert. Although these are traditional meals for both holidays, people normally substitute or make additions to the meal with some cultural options from their motherland.

What About Shopping?

Unlike their American counterparts, the day after Thanksgiving there is no grand shopping spree with insane sales in Canada. There is no Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales. 

However, some stores in cities close to the American border do have Black Friday sales. Canada’s biggest sale day is Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas.

Who did it First?

The most important question, who did it first? The historical origin story of Canadian Thanksgiving is actually earlier than the origin story of an American Thanksgiving. America’s feast at Plymouth was in 1621, while Canada’s story regards the explorer  Frobisher and giving thanks for his safe journey in 1578. So technically, the Canadians did it first.

However, how Canadians celebrate the holiday was influenced by newspaper reports of how Americans celebrate their national holiday. There are also stories of how American refugees still loyal to the Great Britain shifted to Canada and brought with them their American Thanksgiving traditions.

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Nila Choudhury

New York born and raised, Nila Choudhury (aka the encyclopedia of useless Bollywood knowledge) is avoiding rishta aunties by obtaining her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.


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