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Giving Thanks in North America

Giving Thanks in North America

Each passing year brings its share of experiences, growth, and change. One constant in our lives remains: the holidays we celebrate and the traditions that surround them.  Our holidays affect us in a personal way, linking us to family and close friends. Passing seasons evoke memories and instill in us an appreciation for our culture and a desire for community and celebration.  In North America, autumn ushers in strong reminders of our most famous holidays – Thanksgiving.

Both Canada and the United States celebrate Thanksgiving; however, the similarities and differences are of equal length. For instance, both holidays originated from historical and religious backgrounds. Yet in the USA, the holiday is also in gratitude to the Native Americans who provided for  the pilgrims in the 1600s. In Canada, Thanksgiving, which also falls on Indigenous Peoples Day in the USA,  is held to celebrate the past year’s harvest and other blessings. Historically, the government has even proclaimed specific reasons to give thanks.

Historical Roots and Modern Celebrations

Every second Monday of October, Canada will partake in this special day. In the USA, it falls on the 4th Thursday of November. In terms of historical timing, the first Canadian Thanksgiving actually happened first by more than 40 years, celebrated by an explorer (pictured right) known as Martin Frobisher, and even longer before that when you recognize the harvest festivals celebrated by Native Americans/First Nations before that. And though the dates are different, the foundations and customs are largely the same. Thanksgiving is a time to be together with the family and close friends. Subsequently, it is one of the busiest travel times of the year.

For the USA, Thanksgiving also represents an intense time of preparation for December holidays, particularly Christmas and Hanukkah. In the USA more recently, there is Black Friday.  Everyone wakes from blissful slumber and full bellies and drags themselves out of bed far too early to go shopping, as Black Friday is notorious for deep discounts and unstoppable crowds. In Canada, the major shopping day falls on Boxing Day, held the day after Christmas. Boxing Day creates much less of a rush around the Thanksgiving Holiday.

In Canada, people often go hiking and spend time outside, as the temperature is more suitable to such endeavors. Both cultures enjoy sports matches in addition to other festivities.  It should also be noted that while in the USA Thanksgiving is observed in all 50 states, this isn’t the case in Canada. In Atlantic Canada, or Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, Thanksgiving is an optional holiday, meaning that employers aren’t required to recognize the holiday. In francophone Quebec, many locals don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (or action de grâce )  at all.

Thanksgiving Food – Local Influences

Food remains one of the most recognizable aspects of Thanksgiving:  turkey is the staple dish for both countries’ festivities. Meals are usually home-cooked, with some people spending hours preparing the perfect traditional dishes.  Canadian desserts and side dishes frequently feature the ubiquitous Canadian treat – maple. Additionally, since more than one in five Canadians are foreign-born, Thanksgiving meals often feature foods of one’s home culture.  Other popular dishes shared between the two cultures include vegetables, casseroles, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pie. But of course, these dishes aren’t exactly authentic to the earliest Thanksgiving, when the fare included items such as venison, clams, and even lobster.


Thanksgiving is a major part of US American and Canadian tradition, allowing our cultures to slow down; we look back at what to be thankful for, expressing that thanks to our family, our friends, our God. Have you experienced a Thanksgiving? What was the most memorable part?

Special thanks to Andrea Brooks.

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