Canadian Thanksgiving a Unique Holiday

thanksgiving day in canada

Canadian Thanksgiving, celebrated on the second Monday of every October, is a beloved holiday that is unique from its American sibling. Canadian Thanksgiving not only comes earlier in the year than American Thanksgiving, but it came earlier in history too. The day has been an official holiday in Canada for over 100 years, however the date was not agreed upon until the mid-20th century. In 1957, Parliament finally settled on a permanent date for the holiday when it was proclaimed that:

“A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.”

The very first Thanksgiving in all of North America was actually celebrated as far back as 1578 in the province of Newfoundland. Martin Frobisher, an English explorer in the uncharted northern territories, organized the first religious Thanksgiving for his crew and early Canadian settlers as a way to take stock of all they had accomplished in a short time. Frobisher mapped a great deal of eastern Canada and in enduring the unprecedented, bitter winter storms in the far north near Baffin Island, he had lost many ships and comrades. During his 1578 voyage to Baffin Island to set up a new English colony, Frobisher’s ships were scattered. At Frobisher Bay, the explorer was happily reunited with his fleet, and all who had survived the storms honored their reunion with a day of thanks.

canadian explorer

Over the course of the next four centuries, the nature of Canadian Thanksgiving evolved to include a variety of unique characteristics. French settlers of the 16th century, led by Samuel de Champlain, would continue the feasts and days of thanks for surviving the voyage and making a new home for themselves. Officially, the next Canadian day of thanks was nationally celebrated in April of 1872, in honor of the Prince of Wales. That year on April 15, the largest of all the commonwealth nations rejoiced over the recovery of its future King, Edward VII, from a serious case of typhoid. In following years, Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving almost annually, but they could never decide whether to do so in October or November. To finally separate Thanksgiving from what would become Remembrance Day, and also to bring the celebrations closer to the true Canadian harvest dates, Parliament settled on the second Monday of every October as the official day of Canadian Thanksgiving.

Traditional Canadian Thanksgiving Food

Like their American cousins, Canadians love to eat roasted turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes and even pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Monday, but there are a few differences between dinner tables that make the northern celebration unique from the southern. In Canada, pumpkin pie is made with nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves to create a delicate spicy flavor topped with whipped cream, while Americans tend to bake a custard-based pumpkin tart.

thanksgiving pie

Sweet potatoes or yams are generally baked and mashed, and given a similar spice treatment as the pumpkin pie; Amercians prefer a marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole.

Bread stuffing is a delicious Thanksgiving custom that has supporters on either side of the Canada-US border, and it is derived from English roots. In Great Britain, people think that reconstituting dried bread with custard is a neat idea, but it really isn’t such a winner in Canada. Instead, those dried bread cubes are moistened with rich soup stock, plumped up with carrots, celery, onions and sage and stuffed up the backside of a huge Thanksgiving turkey.

In maritime provinces such as Newfoundland, the apparent birthplace of Canadian Thanksgiving, seafood is commonly seen on the Thanksgiving dinner table. Halibut fillets, stuffed with chopped shrimp and leeks, are tied in bundles and grilled as the main event in a Newfie or New Brunswick holiday celebration. Side dishes of oysters and mountains of potatoes finish off the meal nicely.

A somewhat new Thanksgiving dinner fad that has swept the nation’s young adults over the last few years is deep-fried turkey. It’s dangerous, frightening, takes a fraction of the time to cook and requires literally no culinary skill whatsoever. For first-time Thanksgiving dinner hosts, the turkey deep-fryer is a godsend. Just one more thing to be thankful for, eh?

thanksgiving dinner

Canadian Thanksgiving – It’s Not About Shopping, It’s About Leftovers

Turkey Day, as many of the locals call it, is not followed up by a crazed day of discount shopping. Instead, since the big family dinner is usually held on Sunday, Canadians have a leisurely Monday filled with reheated stuffing and potatoes, and turkey sandwiches.  Canadian Thanksgiving is about being blessed with a bountiful harvest as well enjoying a few more weeks without winter. It’s about relatives overstaying their welcome, cousins terrorizing other cousins’ pets, and everyone avoiding the enormous pile of horribly sticky pots and pans in the sink.

Overall, this uniquely Canadian holiday is about gathering with your loved ones and thanking God, or the farmers, or whichever deity you choose for a wonderful meal as well as all the subsequent meals throughout the year that keep us moving onward and upward.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

Written by Mandy Gardner

NNDB – King Edward VII

Government of Canada – Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day

Mental Floss – Four Big Differences Between Canadian and American Thanksgiving

7 Responses to "Canadian Thanksgiving a Unique Holiday"

  1. Randy Lessard   October 14, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends and family

    Reply
  2. teri   October 13, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Tried to leave a comment but was told I am making my commentS (really, I commented ONCE) “too quickly.” Really??? Shall I type slower for you??

    Reply
  3. Mandy Gardner   October 13, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Thanks for sharing, Newfie!

    Reply
  4. Newfie G   October 13, 2013 at 8:43 am

    ” Halibut fillets, stuffed with chopped shrimp and leeks” Where do you get your information?? I have lived in Newfoundland over 40 yrs and I have never heard of this for Thanksgiving or any other meal for that matter! We just have the traditional turkey and all the trimmings… One thing to note is we have “jigg’s dinner” with the turkey… salt meat, potatoes, carrot, turnip, and cabbage boiled together….

    Reply
  5. Mandy Gardner   October 11, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Hi Vanessa! Sorry, I just read your comment so I’m afraid I’m a bit late! I appreciate the offer 🙂

    Reply
  6. Vanessa Van Bergen   October 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Hi Mandy,

    I’m a producer at News Talk 770’s “Calgary Today with John Bolton”. Would you be available to do a 5 minute radio interview tomorrow, October 11th at 3:15 pm EST regarding this article? Let me know when you get the chance,

    Vanessa

    Reply
  7. also anonymous   October 10, 2013 at 5:49 am

    Interesting, informative, and enjoyable! Thanks.

    Reply

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