Why Are Canadian and US Thanksgivings in Different Months?

(Last Updated On: September 17, 2019)
Why Are Canadian and US Thanksgivings in Different Months?

There is no doubt that the US and Canada have a lot in common. But those that travel back and forth between the two countries often have probably seen some notable differences as well. Some of these differences are practical, some are political, and sometimes, they’re just entertaining to consider. Thanksgiving is a good example of this. This classic fall holiday is a staple for many families across both countries, but they take on two very different forms, with one being celebrated in October, and the other in November. So why are Canadian and US Thanksgivings in different months, and what else sets them apart? Let’s take a look!

The American Thanksgiving

Falling on the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving in the United States is generally marked by larger family gatherings, turkey, football, and shopping (but not necessarily in that order). 

Related post: Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Play on Thanksgiving?

The original first American Thanksgiving dates back to 1621. In that year, Plymouth colonists sat down with Wampanoag Indians to celebrate an autumn harvest feast.  The feast commemorated a rare example of harmony between colonists and Native Americans. For around 200 years after that, different colonies and states had their own individual Thanksgiving celebrations around this time of the year, but the day was nothing formal. This changed in 1863. In the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared there to be an official Thanksgiving Day every November. The holiday has been going strong since. 

However, if we go back even farther, we can find roots for Thanksgiving back in Europe. The Separatists and Puritans who originally colonized the United States had long standing traditions of fasting during trying times as well as feasting as a form of thanks to God in times of plenty.

Moving into the modern-day, Thanksgiving has lost most of that religious significance. In America, it is a federal holiday, meaning that almost everyone has the day off to spend time with their families. Lately, it’s also become a momentous time for shoppers, as the next day, Black Friday, has become the single-biggest shopping day of the year. 

Why Are Canadian and US Thanksgivings in Different Months?

Canada is a younger country than its neighbor to the South, so you might think that the Canadian Thanksgiving was a later creation as well. But not necessarily. 

The general belief is that the first Thanksgiving in Canada started with English explorer Sir Martin Frobisher in 1578, well before the colonists at Plymouth. The reasoning behind the celebration was quite different as well. Frobisher was looking for a passage to the Orient, and while he failed to find it, the feast was designed to celebrate that they landed in now-Newfoundland safely.

When comparing the US Thanksgiving to the Canadian one, perhaps the first difference that people notice is the fact that it’s celebrated over a month earlier–the second Monday of October. The major reason for this is a practical one. The Canadian harvest tends to happen earlier than in the United States, so it makes sense to have an earlier harvest feast too. 

Canadian vs. American Thanksgiving

Canadian vs. American Thanksgiving

When Canada first made Thanksgiving a formal holiday in 1879, there was a religious component to it as well. Protestant ministers campaigned for a Protestant national holiday to thank God for the harvest bounty, but also to create a national identity as Canada prepared to separate from Great Britain. 

Today, much like in America, the religious aspect doesn’t really have much of a presence anymore. However, in general, Canada’s Thanksgiving isn’t as major of an occasion as it is in the U.S. The connections to shopping and football don’t really exist either. Generally, Canada’s biggest shopping day is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. 

In terms of days off, while it is celebrated nationally, Canadian Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday. This means that it can be legislated at the provincial level. In some cases, it’s optional, and in others, workers can get overtime for working on that day. 

Of course, you may be curious about the food. For the most part, things are similar between the US and Canada. Turkey became a Thanksgiving tradition in Canada after the American Revolution. However, some American staples, like sweet potatoes or cornbread, aren’t as common up North. 

Quiz yourself: Anatomy of a Turkey


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