Although Thanksgiving celebrations are held in some way in many parts of the world, the celebrations in Canada and the United States date from roughly the same time period and have been influenced by many of the same cultural groups.
One of the biggest differences between the celebrations is the date. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October and the celebrations usually last into the weekend. Generally, Canadian Thanksgiving falls on the Columbus Day holiday, which many Americans – particularly Italian-Americans – celebrate with parades.
However, prior to the 19th century, many Canadian provinces set their own date for Thanksgiving celebrations. In the early 1900s, many Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving in November but this date was changed following World War I since it fell too close to Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day) ceremonies. In 1957, Canada officially declared the second Monday in October for Thanksgiving celebrations.
Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill into law that changed the date that President Abraham Lincoln had assigned to Thanksgiving. Lincoln had chosen the final Thursday in November, which does not always fall on the fourth Thursday, in an effort to unite the northern and southern states following the Civil War. Roosevelt changed the date in an effort to give the country an economic lift during the Great Depression.
Canadian Thanksgiving traces its origins to Martin Frobisher, an English explorer who was trying to find a Northwest Passage. Upon arrival in Canada, he and his companions held a celebration to give thanks for a safe arrival after a difficult and dangerous journey.
As with most things in Canada, the French had an equal influence on the holiday. French explorer Samuel de Champlain led a group of French settlers to Canada in the 17th century who then held a great feast at the end of the successful harvest. There are even reports that they shared their food with the indigenous people of the area.
American Thanksgiving is generally believed to date from the Pilgrim harvest celebration in 1621. However, many researchers believe the first Thanksgiving was actually held by Spanish explorers in Florida in 1565. In 1619, settlers in the Virginia colony also held a feast to celebrate the anniversary of the settlement.
Canadians celebrate in much the same way that Americans do: feasts, parades, football, harvest decorations, travel, and time with family. Unlike most Americans, though, Canadians have no fixed day for the traditional Thanksgiving feast. Since the holiday falls on a Monday, Canadians serve up their feast Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, although most people hold their feast on Sunday.
Many Canadians roast a turkey and serve cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes, and pies for their Thanksgiving feast, although a baked ham might also be the featured dish.
FineCooking.com has some great recipes to give you a taste of what a traditional Thanksgiving feast is like in Canada. Here’s just a few to whet your appetite.