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Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians! Here is how Canada celebrates their big holiday as well as four ways that the Canadian and U.S. Thanksgivings differ.
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 9, 2023).
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.
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 season’s bountiful harvest. However, Canadian Thanksgiving was initially 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 the Canadian Confederation didn’t happen until April 1872, when the holiday was observed to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a severe 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 harvest and good food of the season.
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 Quebec, where the holiday isn’t as popular overall.)
In Canada, Thanksgiving is a time for families to gather and enjoy a turkey dinner while celebrating the harvest. However, unlike in the United States, relatives tend not to travel as far. This is because the holiday occurs in early October, and the weather is typically mild enough for a Thanksgiving Day hike or vacation. Many Canadians enjoy participating in this tradition before the long winter sets in. The Thanksgiving feast may also occur on Saturday or Sunday since the holiday falls on a Monday.
Although you might expect hockey to replace traditional Thanksgiving Day football, football is part of the Thanksgiving tradition in Canada, too. Each year, the annual Thanksgiving Day Classic doubleheader is broadcast nationwide, wherein four teams from the CFL (Canadian Football League) play for Thanksgiving glory!
4. There’s No Huge Post-Thanksgiving Shopping Craze
Love 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 allows Canadians 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. Canadian stores have also started participating in November’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday in recent years. Especially since 2020 and COVID-19, with the surge in online shopping, retailers may seize any opportunity to promote consumer activity around the holidays.
Ultimately, no matter how, when, or where you celebrate it: Happy Thanksgiving!