Thanksgiving isn’t just an American holiday. Canada celebrates Turkey Day, too — and it was the first country to do so.
Canadian Thanksgiving, which falls on the second Monday in October, was first celebrated by the arctic explorer Martin Frobisher in 1578 — more than 40 years before the Pilgrims arrived. After the end of the Seven Days War in 1763, the celebration was brought to Nova Scotia and other parts of the country. Today, Canadians celebrate the holiday much like their southern neighbors: turkey dinner, football and family time. It’s considered a statutory holiday everywhere in Canada except in Atlantic Canada.
For those unfamiliar with Canadian Thanksgiving, below are three answers to common questions surrounding the holiday:
What’s the history behind Canadian Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving was proclaimed a national holiday in 1879. Parliament called it “a day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” In Canada, the holiday draws from three traditions: harvest celebrations in European peasant societies, formal observances like Frobisher’s where the crew gave thanks for their safe return from their search for the Northwest Passage and the Pilgrims’ harvest celebration in Massachusetts that incorporates harvest foods like squash, pumpkin and turkey.
While Frobisher’s meal is considered the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America, First Nations and Native American tribes throughout the continent had organized harvest festivals long before the Europeans arrived.
When French settlers arrived in Canada, explorer Samuel de Champlain drew upon the traditions of First Nations tribes and earlier explorers by establishing a similar feast of thanks. He called the event “The Order of Good Cheer,” which first took place on Nov. 14, 1606.
“These feasts were often attended by Indians of all ages and both sexes, sometimes twenty or thirty being present. The Sagamore, or chief, Membertou, the greatest Sagamore of the land, and other chiefs, when there, were treated as guests and equals,” Marc Lescarbot, a Parisian lawyer and poet who recorded the first account of “The Order of Good Cheer,” wrote at the time.
Later, loyalists during the American Revolution moved to Canada and brought their traditions with them. This included celebrating the harvest, which later became American Thanksgiving. This was when the turkey was introduced to Canadian festivities.
When is Canadian Thanksgiving?
Beginning in 1879, Thanksgiving was officially celebrated on Nov. 6. Later, the holiday was celebrated on the third Monday in October. On Jan. 31, 1957, parliament solved the confusion by proclaiming that Thanksgiving be celebrated on the second Monday in October. The earlier date draws from the fact that Canada is located further north than the United States, causing harvest season to take place earlier.
How do Canadians celebrate?
Canadian families typically take advantage of the long weekend. While a turkey dinner is in order, it doesn’t necessarily take place on Thanksgiving Day. It could be on any day during the weekend. Football is also a Thanksgiving tradition. The Canadian Football League holds the Thanksgiving Day Classic every year. Typically the game is hosted in Montreal. However, unlike American Thanksgiving, Canadians don’t typically see the holiday as a kickoff event to Christmas shopping. Just a few stores have adopted Black Friday sales. Since the day coincides with Columbus Day, American border towns typically see an influx of Canadian visitors during the holiday weekend.