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Thanksgiving in the USA & Canada

Updated: Jun 15, 2021


Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in Canada and in the United States. Traditionally, it is a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest of the preceding year. Although people generally think that Thanksgiving in Canada is just a version of the American holiday, the truth is entirely different. Canadians actually began celebrating the holiday 40 years prior to the American pilgrims' Thanksgiving dinner. Let's see the major differences between American and Canadian versions of the holiday.


In the US, people celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. In Canada, it falls on the second Monday in October, the same day as American Columbus Day. It is probably because the harvest comes earlier in Canada as it is farther north. Although it falls on Monday, the big meal can often happen on Sunday. In Atlantic Canada, it is an optional holiday, so some employees might have the day off, but others might not.


The earliest records of Canadian Thanksgiving date back to 1578, 43 years prior to the Pilgrims and the Native American's feast at Plymouth in 1621. Thanksgiving started as a religious holiday in Canada, but it's now just a time to relax and eat some food with family.

The day was formalized as a national holiday in 1879, and the date fixed in 1957. Before that, there were many different Thanksgiving celebrations. The First Nations celebrated their crops. Later, the celebration marked many different things like explorer Martin Frobisher's successful crossing of the Northwest Passage, war victories and the recovery of the Prince of Wales from illness. The Canadian history of Thanksgiving has different origins from the American holiday and can be more closely connected to the harvest festivities of Europe.

In the United States, the Thanksgiving festivities can be traced to the celebration at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, prompted by a good harvest. Pilgrims and Puritans who came to America brought the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving. Pilgrims held a feast to thank Native Americans for helping them start new lives in their country.

The last Thursday in November was officially declared the festival by the first US President, Abraham Lincoln. The date was set in stone by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, and Congress approved it in 1941.

However, it is not the same kind of holiday in the eyes of all people. For Native Americans, the holiday is a symbol of land loss and fading of the tribal cultures. They organize a National Day of Mourning protest on the day.


In the US, Black Friday is a legendary shopping day famous for deep discounts and people running hysterically from one store to the next. Some shoppers go straight from their Thanksgiving celebrations to the mall as soon as it opens. Cyber Monday, the online shopping equivalent on the following Monday, is a great way for those who don't like crowds.

In Canada, this doesn't happen. The holiday means a long weekend, and although there is some shopping, it isn't an essential part of it. On Sunday and Monday, many stores operate on more limited hours.


In the US, Thanksgiving is a very significant holiday. People visit family even if it means flying across the country as many of them live far from family members. It is one of the busiest travel days in the country. The holiday brings people together. It is time to remember the moment nearly 400 years ago when two totally different cultures came together to thank for what they got.

In Canada, people also tend to spend the holiday with the people they love, but it seems that fewer Canadians go on long-distance trips. Instead, they like to take advantage of the nice weather and go hiking and do other outdoor activities. In Quebec with Catholic French Canadians, for example, this holiday known as Action De Grâce is celebrated to a much lesser extent because of the holiday's Protestant origins.


thanks giving dinner

Traditional American Thanksgiving dinner includes turkey stuffed with chestnuts, sausage meat and grains baked in the oven. Turkey is always served with cranberry sauce and vegetables, usually root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, carrots. Pumpkins are certainly the most popular. Favorite Thanksgiving sweet treats are Pumpkin pie, Marshmallow sweet potatoes, and Pecan pie.

Generally, Canadian Thanksgiving dinner is similar to the American feast. They usually eat turkey, although some people prefer ham or chicken. The stuffed turkey is usually served with sweet potatoes, gravy, corn and fall vegetables. The desert is mostly Pumpkin Pie, but in different parts of the country, local delicacies are served as well.

Newfoundlanders, for example, prefer a boiled meat dish called Jiggs' dinner with a Split-Pea Pudding. In Ontario, besides Pumpkin Pie, Butter Tarts are often served. Different kinds of bread, vegetables, and beverages are prepared in a uniquely Canadian way.


You can't imagine American Thanksgiving without watching football games. After dinner, some families play board or card games or take naps. They might go for walks or ride bikes if it isn't too cold in their part of America in November.

Canadians also watch football on Thanksgiving. However, thanks to warmer weather in October, hiking is a Thanksgiving tradition for many people.


In the US, the president traditionally "pardons" the National Thanksgiving Turkeys so they can live on a farm, a tradition called the Turkey Pardon.

Two people pull the two parts of Wishbone (the bone attached to turkey's chest). They first make a wish. Who gets the longer part of the bone after it breaks will be luckier.

Many people enjoy watching the New York City Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, with marching bands, balloons, and performances from Broadway musicals.

Helping others is also an American Thanksgiving tradition, so some people volunteer at homeless shelters.

People also play a thankful game, have a table toast, give kids some important job to do or invite to dinner someone who has no one to dine with.

In Canada, many towns have small parades. Having a Friendsgiving has become a popular way to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends instead of family. Kids love to make leaf piles and jump in them.

Although on different dates and somewhat different traditions, both holidays are generally recognized as an opportunity to give thanks for good things in our lives. It is also time to celebrate nature's abundance, and enjoy a big meal with family and friends.

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happy thanks giving

celebrate thanksgiving on different dates