Oh, the comfort and tradition of Thanksgiving. Crisp fall weather. Family gathered around the table. A turkey (with stuffing, naturally!) as the centerpiece, flanked by beautiful dishes made of squashes and root vegetables. Pie for dessert, of course, pumpkin being a must-have. A perfect mid-October day.
Wait … mid-October, you say?
Well, yes. This is Thanksgiving, after all, if you live north of the U.S. border. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving – a holiday that, as it turns out, shares many similarities with our own – on the second Monday in October (the day we in the U.S. recognize as Columbus Day). Canada made this “second Monday in October” rule official in 1957, even though the holiday had fallen on that day since 1931. Before then, the holiday tended to be celebrated in early November. (The date was shifted to earlier in the season to account for Canada’s earlier harvest time, given their northern location.)
And though there’s a decent amount of overlap between the two holidays (including football taking place over the holiday weekend in both locations), the Canadian version of the celebration includes some of its own elements as well.
Since Canadian Thanksgiving takes place on a Monday, it’s typical for families to choose any day of the long weekend to celebrate, so the big, traditional meal might not take place on Thanksgiving Day itself, but perhaps on the Saturday or Sunday beforehand. Unlike the Christmas-obsessed, extreme retail therapy tradition we Americans have attached to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Canadian version lacks a post-celebration Black Friday-esque shopping event. (Sign me up!)
Although many Canadians’ Thanksgiving tables look eerily similar to ours here in the U.S., the menu is certainly up to interpretation and recipes such as bannock and nanaimo bars can be found on the Food Network. Canadian pumpkin pie is reputed to be spicier than America’s sweet version, Canadian stuffing is more bread crumbs or rice than cornbread, and Canadian Thanksgiving may feature a ham as well as a turkey. Some families opt for alternatives — often ones that pay homage to their cultural roots, such as hummus or dim sum.
Quebec, the Canadian province known for doing their own thing in many respects, has been slower to adopt Canadian Thanksgiving, and so the celebration of the holiday for them — one they call L’Action de Grâce — is more optional. At this celebration, French Canadian or typically Quebecois foods may be more common, and you may very well find maple syrup in your recipes.
And just to clear things up: no, Canada didn’t take note of our American Thanksgiving and jump on the bandwagon. It’s likely that they had dibs on Thanksgiving first, in fact, pre-dating the tale of the 1621 Pilgrim and Native American meal we claim as the initiation of the holiday here in lower North America (however revisionist that idyllic story might be). The Canadian Thanksgiving tradition dates back to 1578 in Newfoundland when English explorer Sir Martin Frobisher and his crew celebrated a safe passage to the New World (despite not having found the Northwest Passage to the Orient they’d set out to discover).
(Then again, another account of the start of Canadian Thanksgiving has it dating back to just 1859 as a day of gratitude started by Protestant church leaders in Ontario. This version has the holiday being established as a religious holiday that also included pride in the Canadian nation.)
Regardless, these days, most Canadians reserve a long weekend each October to acknowledge all they have to be grateful for, an event punctuated by good food and family.
So today, take a moment to raise a glass to our northern neighbors, wishing them a happy 2016 Canadian Thanksgiving. Here’s to you, Canada!
Anna Keller likes the occasional fancy, over-the-top meal served on a white tablecloth, but will be just a happy with dinner from Taco Bell (she and her husband were there the day they launched their new breakfast menu). For her, food is about the experience, the story, the tradition, and the community it provides, and it takes a starring role in her blog, where she shares recipe creations and recreations — usually of the baking variety.
Photo by lojjic CC BY-SA