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Canadian Thanksgiving

Many Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving which is an annual cultural holiday that takes place on the second Monday of October each year. It has been officially celebrated as a holiday since November 6, 1879, and on the second Monday in October since 1957.

The history of Thanksgiving, both the Canadian and American versions, is complex. Both countries have their own myths surrounding the holiday, with European settlers and Indigenous peoples coming together for a historic feast. However, both European societies and Indigenous societies had been holding end of harvest feasts well before either came into contact with one another. This history is laid out in a Macleans piece that looks at Canada’s complex history with Thanksgiving: https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/the-odd-complicated-history-of-canadian-thanksgiving/ .

Today, it is celebrated by gathering with loved ones and preparing the Thanksgiving Day meal, which usually includes turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and many other dishes.

Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the past year
Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the past year

Some events that could have formed a basis for historical Thanksgivings include a feast of Thanksgiving and prayer from Martin Frobisher and his crew upon their return to Newfoundland in 1578 after a particularly perilous trip to the Canadian Arctic in search of the North West Passage. Following this was Samuel de Champlain’s Thanksgiving in 1606 and onwards, as part of the Order of Good Cheer, and included local Mi-kmaq people. The holiday was celebrated at different times of the year, but mostly in the Autumn and usually after an event where European (mostly Protestant) settlers wished to thank God for their good fortune. This also included Thanksgiving coinciding with Armistice Day following World War 1, before it became Remembrance Day and Thanksgiving was placed on the second Monday in October.

Complicating the histories of both American and Canadian Thanksgiving is the role it played in nation-building and Confederation—particularly in the context of trying to Europeanize Indigenous peoples in Canada.

However, we can be thankful that the modern version of Thanksgiving (in both countries) is a far cry from whichever mythical roots we choose to attach to it as a society. Our modern Thanksgiving, from the 1950s onwards, has focused on being thankful for fortunes in our lives, the roof over our heads, the food on the table, and the family and friends with whom we share the meal. From its loose beginnings, a loose modern tradition has sprung up. In Canada, some traditions have been borrowed from the United States. This includes the turkey, which is most likely itself taken from England where a big goose is served for special meals; the only difference being turkeys are native to North America.

Christina Sisimondo, writing in the Macleans article, makes a case for making Thanksgiving one’s own as it is more or less an invented holiday. In children’s programming, in an attempt to explain the holiday, there is a consensus of celebrating and being thankful for what one has, as well as showing generosity and kindness to others. Whether this is following the faith roots of historical instances of Thanksgiving meals and thanking God or being thankful in general, Thanksgiving is about gratitude and coming together as communities and individuals to express that gratitude.

The 49th Parallel

Another reason for Canadian Thanksgiving arriving earlier than its American counterpart is that Canada is geographically further north than the United States, causing the Canadian harvest season to arrive earlier than the American harvest season. And since Thanksgiving for Canadians is more about giving thanks for the harvest season than the arrival of pilgrims, it makes sense to celebrate the holiday in October. So what are the differences between Canadian and American Thanksgiving, other than the date? Not much! Both Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with parades, family gatherings, pumpkin pie and a whole lot of turkey!