4 Ways Canadian Thanksgiving Differs From American Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

September 23, 2019
Maple Leaf
Pixabay

In America, 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!

4 Ways Canadian Thanksgiving Differs From American Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving may look similar at first glance, but there are a a few things that set these two fall festivities apart.

1. 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 14, in 2019). 

Since the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday, its date has moved several times—from mid-week in April to a Thursday in November—until 1957, when the Canadian government officially declared that Thanksgiving would occur on the second Monday in October. This ensured that Thanksgiving and another Canadian holiday, Remembrance Day (November 11), would no longer overlap.

Today, Canadian Thanksgiving lines up with Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States, which are also held on the second Monday in October.

Vancouver in Autumn
A serene autumn morning in Vancouver.

2. American and Canadian Thanksgiving Have Different (But Similar) Origins

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 good food of the season.

Canadian Flag. Photo by Muskoka Stock Photos/Shutterstock.
Photo by Muskoka Stock Photos/Shutterstock.

3. Thanksgiving Is a Little More Low Key in Canada

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 just 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. 

Although you might expect hockey to take the place of traditional Thanksgiving Day football, football is part of Thanksgiving tradition in Canada, too. Each year, the annual Thanksgiving Day Classic double header is broadcast nationwide, wherein four teams from the CFL (Canadian Football League) play for Thanksgiving glory!

Maple leaf

4. There’s No Post-Thanksgiving Shopping Craze

Love them or hate them, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become a big part of the Thanksgiving season in the United States. In Canada, however, there’s no real post-Thanksgiving shopping craze, since Christmas is still so far off. This gives Canadians the chance to focus purely on celebrating the beauty of early October and the harvest!

That being said, no one can resist a good sale for long: in recent years, Canadian stores have started to participate in November’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday, too. 

In the end, no matter how, when, or where you celebrate it: Happy Thanksgiving!

Learn More

Check out our page on American Thanksgiving, as well as a list of our favorite Thanksgiving Recipes (and Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes, too)!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Love to learn

Thank you for writing this article and to everyone that commented their personal experiences!

As a homeschooling, American mother, this was fun to read and share with my kids. We were fascinated that Canadian Thanksgiving falls on Indigenous Peoples' day.

I know that many Americans are big on football, but in our house we are far more family and food focused.

I would be very much interested in "traditional dishes" that you can't live without at your Thanksgiving table. We go back and fourth between the time tested dishes like Caterpillar Casserole (green bean casserole), stuffing, candied yams, turkey...to getting creative and trying out different sides.

All in all, family is first and foremost in our home. I really like the comment about eating outside if the weather is nice. What a wonderful idea!

Thank you again for sharing!

Canadian Thanksgiving

I enjoyed the article and I think everyone has their own traditions but my family it's always been about being thankful for what we have, for the wonderful fall harvests and spending time together with family and friends and eating lots of yummy turkey with all the trimmings and some great desserts! One of my proudest moments of parenting was when our four, then young children informed us that Thanksgiving was indeed their favorite holiday with Christmas being a close second! LOL Just the fact that they didn't require the material things to know what was really important and it meant as much to them as it did to us... it was that moment that I felt like we were raising great little humans.

Canadian Thanksgiving

It was a nice try, but the article really didn't paint the correct picture. Regardless of where it came from, Canadian thanksgiving does now represent gratefulness to the harvest, and a thanks for the family you are surrounded with. The whole bit about the explorers, or the Prince of Wales, would only be a footnote in a history textbook at this point, and almost nobody would know these things.

Also, just about nobody would actually watch Canadian Football with the family gathered around. A quick check at TV ratings would indicate that. For most places in Canada what would be on the TV would be the hockey game - not Canadian football.

And this one is likely just personal, but I wouldn't dare to say to my family that Thanksgiving doesn't matter as much as it does in the US. I would personally put it up as the #1 most important family tradition holiday, even up above Christmas - and I know just about everyone in my family would say the same thing.

Canadian Thanksgiving

The Editors's picture

Thank you for your feedback! 

We will make sure that the article is updated to better reflect the holiday.

he's one opinion

I would like to hear what more of our northern friends think or how they celebrate instead of taking one persons opinion as gospel

Canadian Thanksgiving

I agree with steve b. I live in Edmonton, Alberta, 54 degrees north latitude. I will be busy harvesting my garden and preparing a turkey dinner for my family, not watching hockey or football. If the weather is good we will eat outside.

Canadian Thanksgiving

Maybe I'm old fashioned but as a senior Canadian I'm really thankful for many, many things. If I started listing them you may think what is this woman talking about. We have everything we need for our bodies, if we are willing to work for it. We live in a country that has freedom of religion and the opportunity to worship as we like. We have the opportunity to vote. We can choose to live where we wish and in what we can afford. I could go on and on. I am thankful for all of this and more. Hope you, as a fellow Canadian, feel the same way.