A quick Google search of Thanksgiving reveals stories of the Mayflower, paintings of a 17th century feast in the Plymouth colony, and a reminder to calendar a certain Thursday in November.
For Canadians, Thanksgiving has a different story. If you’re traveling to Canada this fall, learn about these 5 characteristics of Canadian Thanksgiving.
- An October Celebration In the 19th and early 20th century, Canadian Thanksgiving often overlapped (occurred on the same day as) with Remembrance Day, when Canadians commemorate their veterans on November 11th. In 1957, the Canadian Parliament officially declared the second Monday in October as Thanksgiving Day. It’s typical for Canadians to celebrate Thanksgiving any day over the 3-day weekend. Saturday or Sunday feasts are perfectly normal.
- History Canadians attribute the origin of Thanksgiving to traditions of Indigenous Peoples holding communal feasts to celebrate their fall harvest. Canadians consider the first official Canadian Thanksgiving to be in Newfoundland in 1578, when Sir Martin Frobisher celebrated his successful journey from England to Newfoundland. A fall harvest wasn’t involved, but giving thanks was. For centuries, Thanksgiving in Canada had an official theme, ranging from “restoration of peace with Russia” to “blessings of an abundant harvest.” Today, Canadians take Thanksgiving to gather with friends and family and express gratitude for their blessings.
- Regional Differences Thanksgiving is an official statutory holiday in all provinces and territories except for its easternmost provinces: Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Some Canadians in these regions still celebrate Thanksgiving, but to a lesser extent. In Québec, Thanksgiving is called Action de Grâce, and it is common for Quebecois to skip the celebration.
- Food! Just like in the U.S., when Canadians think Thanksgiving, they think roast turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Check out Food Network’s 40 Great Canadian Thanksgiving Recipes to see how closely the U.S. American and Canadian feasts relate. Some families complement the turkey with side dishes from their heritage, such as Polish pickled beets or Italian antipasto. The dinner ends with a delicious slice of pumpkin pie, though other Canadian favorites–butter tarts or nanaimo bars–might be served as well.
- Activities Autumn is a beautiful time in Canada, so many Canadians plan outdoor activities to appreciate colorful fall leaves over Thanksgiving weekend. Hiking, walking, and fishing are popular activities. Watching football over Thanksgiving is also popular, though not nearly to the extent in the United States. The Canadian Football League holds an annual Thanksgiving Day Classic. Unlike U.S. Americans, Canadians aren’t gearing up to hit the stores for Black Friday after their turkey dinner. Boxing Day, December 26th, is when Canadian stores have their big holiday sales, and Canadians line up for new laptops or discounted clothing.
Overall, Canadian Thanksgiving is quieter than the holiday in the U.S. Canadians are less likely to fly cross-country to feast with family, and many do not celebrate the holiday because of regional differences. If you travel to Canada on the second Monday of October, be aware that nationwide, many businesses may be closed. Canadian Thanksgiving revolves around family, food, maybe a little football, and nature.
Sharon Schweitzer and Emilie Lostracco co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer J.D., is an award-winning entrepreneur, cross-cultural trainer, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, (3rd printing), was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.
Emilie Lostracco is a Fall 2017 Cross-Cultural Communication Intern with Access to Culture. The Montreal native is currently a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, studying International Relations and Global Studies. Emilie specializes in international environmental efforts, European studies, and French. She plans on graduating with honors in December. Connect with her via Linkedin.