4 Ways Canadian Thanksgiving Differs From American Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

October 4, 2018
Maple Leaf

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 8, in 2018). 

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 a time to gather the family and celebrate the good food of the season.

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

3. Thanksgiving Isn’t as Big of a Deal in Canada

Thanksgiving is one of the biggest holidays of the year in the United States, but it’s decidedly lower key in Canada. The holiday is still popular, though, and Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in most of the country, meaning that the majority of Canadians have the day off. 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 before the long winter ahead.

Like in America, football is also a part of the holiday, with the annual Thanksgiving Day Classic double header being broadcast nationwide. Four teams from the 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 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

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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.