Canadian Thanksgiving is an annual celebration meant to honor life’s blessings while spending quality time with close family and friends. It is celebrated on the second Monday of October. Even though its origins are based in religion, it has recently become a reason for families and friends to enjoy a delicious meal together and express gratitude for their life.
Canadian Thanksgiving has some unique origins that separate it from the American holiday, predating the United States Thanksgiving holiday in Plymouth Plantation by 43 years. Canada’s holiday was initially created to express thanks for explorers’ safe voyages into the New World. However, over time it evolved into a religious holiday to thank God for a bountiful Fall harvest.
If you’ve ever wondered what makes Canadian Thanksgiving unique, here’s a simple overview of everything you need to know about the holiday.
Canadian Thanksgiving’s Origins
The first Canadian Thanksgiving was reportedly hosted in 1578 by the English explorer Martin Frobisher in what is now Newfoundland. At the time, Frobisher and his expedition attempted to travel through the Northwest Passage safely. The celebration marked their safe arrival to the New World. That first celebratory meal consisted of a simple but delicious combination of salted beef and mushy peas.
The first few Thanksgiving holidays were intended to thank God for keeping explorers safe as they traveled to the New World. Over time, Canadian Thanksgiving evolved to express gratitude to God for a bountiful Fall harvest. However, the next historic celebration didn’t occur until April 1872, when the holiday was reinstated to celebrate the Prince of Wales’s recovery from a significant illness.
For a while, the Thanksgiving holiday did not have a set date. It moved around all over the calendar, from mid-April to November, before the Canadian government finally settled on the second Monday of October. In 1957, the Canadian Parliament made the holiday official with the following proclamation: A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.
Coincidently, today’s Canadian Thanksgiving shares the same holiday as Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day in the United States.
Canadian Thanksgiving’s Traditions
Canadian Thanksgiving is more lowkey than its American counterpart. Although the holiday takes place on a Monday, employers are not required to give workers the day off. Families and friends usually gather on the Sunday before to celebrate the holiday. Also, Canadian Thanksgiving is not celebrated widely across Canada and is not common in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Prince Edward Island.
Thanksgiving meals vary by province, so if you’re new to Canada you can also create your own tradition. Families in Newfoundland typically enjoy what’s known as a Jigg’s Dinner. A Jigg’s Dinner is a boiled meat dish accompanied by a split-pea pudding, which is not too far off from the original Thanksgiving meal shared by the explorers.
In Ontario, families also enjoy sweet butter tarts or syrup-filled pastry shells. Across the country, Canadians typically finish the meal with a spicy pumpkin pie topped with cloves, ginger, and cinnamon for dessert.
Similar to Americans, Canadians enjoy football and sports on Thanksgiving, and the Canadian Football League televises its own football doubleheader known as the Thanksgiving Day Classic. There are also Thanksgiving Day parades for families and children to enjoy. The biggest and most well-known is the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Thanksgiving Day Parade, which airs on Thanksgiving Day with over 120 floats.
Celebrating Thanksgiving When Family Is Overseas
If your friends and family are far away, you can still find ways to give thanks for life’s most important blessings. You could have a video chat with your loved ones and tell them all about the Canadian Thanksgiving. Or consider texting family you haven’t connected with in a while and let them know you’re thinking of them. If you send money home periodically as a means of support, send an extra money transfer as a treat or to have a celebratory dinner on you. We make this super-easy on our Western Union app or website, and you can send them a text explaining your gift.
If you’re feeling a bit homesick while watching coworkers spend time with family, have dinner over video chat with loved ones far away. Or accept an offer from a Canadian friend to have a Thanksgiving dinner with them. However you spend it, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!