Canadian Thanksgiving explained

Corina Beimers—Staff Writer

I was asked many questions on October 11. 

For Canadians on campus, it wasn’t just another Monday, it was the second Monday of October, which means Thanksgiving. Canada and the United States share multiple holidays, especially major ones like Christmas, but not Thanksgiving. Why? Why early October instead of late November? How is Canadian Thanksgiving different from American Thanksgiving? Do we eat turkey? Were there pilgrims? Did the Mayflower make a pit-stop in Newfoundland? 

We eat poutine and moose in our igloos. There were no pilgrims, we magically appeared out of nowhere. It’s called the Mayflower Jr. And we actually don’t call it Canadian Thanksgiving, it’s just Thanksgiving. 

Time for a Canadian history lesson. 

While most of American history dates back further than Canadian history, Thanksgiving is one area we may have the Americans beat. American Thanksgiving is connected to the 1621 feast between Native Americans and Pilgrims, while the original Thanksgiving can be dated back to 1578 in Canada. We celebrated our first Thanksgiving with a delicious meal of biscuits, salt beef, and mushy peas. Martin Frobisher, an English explorer, arrived in eastern Canada when searching for the Northwest Passage. The crew gathered, ate, and took part in a church service that gave thanks to God for bringing them there. While it wasn’t declared an official holiday for a few hundred years, after the establishment of the Canadian Confederation, the roots of Canada’s Thanksgiving run deep. 

Why the second Monday of October? Canada has strong ties to Europe. Although now an autonomous country, we were once under British rule and currently are still part of the Commonwealth. Long before America celebrated Thanksgiving, there were traditions of celebrating the harvest in the month of October in Europe. For years, Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically, then once it was made annual, the date moved around several times throughout the months of October and November. In 1879, Nov. 6 was named the national holiday to celebrate Thanksgiving. This date changed after the world wars, as Nov. 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada, a day observed by the Commonwealth to remember and honor those who served in the wars. The Canadian Parliament declared in 1957 that Thanksgiving would be held on the second Monday of every October.

Another reason for the earlier celebration only reinforces the stereotype that you all think we live in an icebox, but reality is, Canada is further north. This means that it gets colder earlier, forcing our harvest season to be earlier than America’s. Having Thanksgiving in early October allows the celebration to actually coincide with the completion of harvest in a majority of the country. 

What else is different about Thanksgiving up north? Like most things, excluding hockey and beer, Americans tend to be more extreme and passionate when it comes to celebrations, while Canadians are a bit more relaxed and low-key. We love Thanksgiving in Canada, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t have the same massive parades, glorification of football, or school pageants with Pilgrims and Native Americans. We gather with our families and friends and eat a turkey dinner just like Americans, but there may be a different level of investment. It’s not even a public holiday in some of our east coast provinces, and in Quebec, with its Catholic roots, the holiday is usually understated. We don’t have the craze of Black Friday the day after because Christmas is still a long way off. We save that for Boxing Day. Also, when we eat a salad that means a dish based with lettuce, not whipped cream or marshmallows. 

Didn’t understand a Canadian term used in this article? It takes about two seconds to Google it or ask your Canadian friends on campus and they will appreciate it. We do share a fairly massive land border, after all.

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