Exploring Thanksgiving in Canada and the U.S.
Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition celebrated with enthusiasm and gratitude in North America. While both Canadians and Americans take part in this cherished holiday, there are notable differences that make each celebration unique.
Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October and this year it is on Oct. 9. In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November and this year it’s on Nov. 23.
Let’s explore the historical origins and discover the common threads that bind these two nations in a shared appreciation for family, food, and gratitude.
American Thanksgiving: A Pilgrim's Tale
The origins of Thanksgiving in the United States can be traced back to 1621 when the Pilgrims, a group of English separatists, and the Wampanoag Native Americans gathered for a three-day feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
The Pilgrims had endured a harsh first year in the New World and celebrated a bountiful harvest, forging a bond of friendship with their indigenous neighbors. President Abraham Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, setting the date as the last Thursday in November.
Canadian Thanksgiving: A Harvest Celebration
In Canada, the roots of Thanksgiving can be traced even further back, with origins in the 1578 voyage of Martin Frobisher, an English explorer. Frobisher and his crew celebrated their safe arrival in what is now Newfoundland and Labrador with a feast.
It wasn't until 1879 that Thanksgiving was celebrated as a national holiday in Canada, with the date initially set as November 6th. It was later moved to the second Monday in October, where it remains today.
One of the most apparent distinctions between Canadian and American Thanksgivings is the date of celebration.
American Thanksgiving: Fourth Thursday in November
Thanksgiving in the United States is observed on the fourth Thursday in November. This date was officially set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939. The decision to move Thanksgiving one week earlier, to lengthen the holiday shopping season during the Great Depression, was met with mixed reactions. Nevertheless, it remains a fixed date on the American calendar along with the shopping extravaganza, Black Friday.
Canadian Thanksgiving: Second Monday in October
In Canada, Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday in October. This earlier date reflects the country's northern climate, where the harvest season comes earlier than in many parts of the United States. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving closer to the time when crops are being harvested, ensuring a bounty of fresh produce for their festive tables.
Both Canadian and American Thanksgivings feature sumptuous feasts with an array of mouthwatering dishes. While there are some differences in the specifics, certain core elements are shared.
Canadian Thanksgiving: Roast Turkey
Canadians, too, embrace the tradition of roasted turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Additionally, butter tarts and Nanaimo bars often grace the dessert spread, showcasing Canada's culinary diversity.
American Thanksgiving: Roast Turkey and Cranberry Sauce
In the United States, a roasted turkey also takes centre stage at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Accompanied by stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and cranberry sauce, it's a feast that embodies the spirit of abundance. Pumpkin and pecan pies are popular dessert choices.
Shared Food Elements: A Common Thread
Despite these variations, both Canadian and American Thanksgiving meals emphasize the importance of seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. The focus on family recipes passed down through generations remains a constant. Both nations share the joy of preparing and sharing a meal with loved ones, making it a heartwarming and cherished tradition on both sides of the border.
Thanksgiving Parades and Celebrations
Parades and celebrations are another hallmark of Thanksgiving in North America, and both countries have their own unique takes on these festivities.
American Thanksgiving: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is an iconic American tradition dating back to 1924. Featuring larger-than-life balloons, elaborate floats, and live performances, it ushers in the holiday season with pomp and spectacle. Millions of Americans tune in to watch this beloved event, making it a cherished part of their Thanksgiving morning.
Canadian Thanksgiving: Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest
In Canada, Thanksgiving often coincides with Kitchener-Waterloo's Oktoberfest, the largest Bavarian festival outside of Germany. While not exclusive to Thanksgiving, this event showcases Canadian-German cultural ties and adds a unique flavor to the celebrations. It features parades, music, and, of course, an abundance of food and beer.
Gratitude and Family
Beyond the specific customs and dates, the essence of Thanksgiving remains constant on both sides of the border. It is a time for reflection, gratitude, and coming together with family and friends.
Gratitude: A Common Theme
The core theme of Thanksgiving, expressing gratitude for the year's blessings, transcends national boundaries. Canadians and Americans alike take this opportunity to reflect on the good things in their lives, fostering a sense of appreciation and thankfulness.
Family: The Heart of Thanksgiving
Family plays a central role in both Canadian and American Thanksgivings. It's a time when loved ones come together, often traveling long distances to be with one another. The act of gathering around a table, sharing stories, laughter, and a delicious meal creates cherished memories that endure throughout the years.
Canadian and American Thanksgivings are two sides of the same coin, rooted in history, tradition, and a deep appreciation for the harvest season. While there are notable differences in dates, food, and customs, the shared values of gratitude and family bind these two nations in a common celebration of thankfulness.
Whether you find yourself in the heartland of the United States or in Canada, Thanksgiving serves as a reminder that, regardless of where we come from, we all have much to be thankful for in our lives.