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Thanksgiving Celebrations in the U.S. and Canada: Canadian vs. American Thanksgiving Holidays

Published by Amos Heggs

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Thanksgiving is a major holiday in North America. One usually celebrates it at home by eating turkey and the various trimmings that might be had with turkey. But the similarities between the holiday in Canada and the United States end there. They are very distinct occasions with very different meanings in the two countries.


In Canada Thanksgiving occurs on the second Monday of October. It did not always fall then but was something of a happenstance holiday. In 1578 Martin Frobisher gave thanks for surviving a long journey after returning from his journey to find the Northwest passage. After the American Revolution individuals who came to Canada from America brought their custom of celebration to the former country, but after Canadian Confederation Thanksgiving fell on April 5th, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) from an illness. Beginning in 1879 Thanksgiving was celebrated annually but its exact date was announced each year. After the First World War it with Armistice Day in November to mark thankfulness for the end of the war.

Now Thanksgiving is most akin to the Harvest Festivals which occur in the United Kingdom and Europe, to mark thankfulness for the harvests. It is celebrated throughout Canada as statutory holiday except in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

United States

In America Thanksgiving is rooted in history. The first Thanksgiving reputedly took place in 1621 on the site of the Plymouth Plantation. Venison, fowl, lobster, fish, clams, berries, pumpkin and squash comprised that first feast. There is no mention of turkey. Thanksgiving was not a fixed celebration for the succeeding two hundred years. Governments would proclaim one or more days of thanksgiving during the year and these were marked by prayer and fasting rather than feasting. In 1941 President Roosevelt had Thanksgiving passed into law as the fourth Thursday of November.

The holiday is celebrated with parades throughout the country and has become so popular because it is the one celebration that is not identified with any religion in particular, although it was the Puritans who first celebrated it.

Thanksgiving and Christmas

That Thanksgiving is only one month prior to Christmas has meant something of an amalgamation of that holiday into the Christmas season. Indeed, the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, marks the start of the consumerism associated with Christmas. Thanksgiving is the start of the Christmas season.

So Canadian and American Thanksgiving are very different holidays on the same continent. Both are supposedly about thankfulness the latter has become a national holiday with strong nationalistic overtones.

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