How Are American and Canadian Thanksgiving Different?

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Two days from now, American families will gather over feasts of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and other savory delights to celebrate Thanksgiving. In Canada, Thanksgiving took place five weeks ago. How else are American and Canadian Thanksgiving different? Read on to find out.

When they’re celebrated

Neither American nor Canadian Thanksgiving falls on one specific date every year. Instead, each holiday falls on the same day of a certain week. In Canada, Thanksgiving takes place annually on the second Monday of October. The U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving just over five weeks later, on the fourth Thursday of November. This timing places American Thanksgiving in close proximity with Christmas, so in the U.S., Thanksgiving is said to start the month-long holiday season that lasts through New Year’s Day.

What they celebrate

In the U.S., Thanksgiving honors the first harvest that the Pilgrims held in the “New World” (the region today known as North America). Nearly 150 people – including a large number of Native Americans, whom some activists say are excluded from or even erased by other U.S. holidays – attended this feast. Modern American Thanksgiving feasts are generally much smaller.

Canadian Thanksgiving celebrates a similar event. In 1578, over 40 years before the Pilgrims arrived in what’s now the U.S., Sir Martin Frobisher of England and his crew traversed the Atlantic Ocean to reach Canada, then a British territory. A feast followed to celebrate their safe travels.

What people eat

Almost any American can immediately envision the joys of a Thanksgiving meal: Turkey, mashed potatoes, pecan pie, cranberry sauce, and other delights. Canadian Thanksgiving dinners couldn’t be any more different.

In Canada, Thanksgiving food centers around something known as Jiggs’ dinner. This meal takes after the mushy peas and salt beef that Sir Frobisher and his crew enjoyed upon arriving in the Canadian territory. It replaces the mushy peas with split pea pudding and salt beef with boiled meat. Pies aren’t vital to Canadian Thanksgiving either, instead being replaced by sweet, syrupy bite-sized pastry shells known as butter tarts.

How widely they’re celebrated

Thanksgiving is of paramount significance in the U.S. On this federal holiday, government offices, schools, and most businesses entirely close their doors. And since it falls on a Thursday, the holiday often turns into a long weekend lasting through the Sunday after Thanksgiving, turning the occasion into a chance to travel to see family (and, for people living in colder parts of the country, to escape to somewhere warmer).

Canadian Thanksgiving is nowhere close to as prominent. Three Canadian territories – Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick – don’t formally honor the holiday. In the remaining territories, Thanksgiving is celebrated but not a federal holiday. Employers thus aren’t required to give their employees paid time off for the holiday, and as a result, many Canadian families celebrate the holiday the weekend before it arrives (whereas, in the U.S., not receiving ample time off for Thanksgiving is all but unheard of).

Which holiday sounds better to you: American or Canadian Thanksgiving? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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