The Thanksgiving Dinner Crew

Canadians celebrate Labour Day on the first Monday of September. Americans also celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of September. Why is it, then, that today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, but it won’t be Thanksgiving in the United States until next month? Why do Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving at different times?

The history is a little murky on the matter, but from what I can gather, Canadian Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving don’t have any sort of real connection to one another. They just happen to have the same name. And, contrary to popular belief, Thanksgiving doesn’t have a direct connection back to Christopher Columbus either, even though Canadian Thanksgiving and (American) Columbus Day happen to fall on the same day each year too.

Thanksgiving in Canada

Most historians would trace the first Canadian Thanksgiving back to 1578. It was at that time that English explorer Sir Martin Frobisher arrived from England and he was looking for a northern passage through Canada to the Pacific Ocean. Naturally, the journey across the Atlantic was a treacherous one and he wanted to give thanks for surviving the trip. On his third trip to the north, he hosted a ceremony in Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island and that’s where we believe Canadian Thanksgiving was born.

You can see how that narrative would lend itself to Thanksgiving being a time for giving thanks. Another origin story, which may be simpler and more familiar to most people, is that Thanksgiving is tied to the harvest. French settlers celebrated their successful harvests in the fall by sharing massive feasts, even including the local aboriginal people in the festivities. Again, it was a way of giving thanks for the delicious bounty.

Thanksgiving in the USA

Thanksgiving Turkey

The annual tradition of Thanksgiving in the United States can similarly be tied to the harvest, but it can also similarly be tied to a historical figure in the nation’s past. In the American context, the first Thanksgiving is typically traced back to 1621 where there was a celebration in Plymouth. That’s located where Massachusetts sits today. The feast was brought upon by the particularly good harvest, so the pilgrims and Puritans got together for the “Days of Thanksgiving” in New England. Through the years, it came to be a time to thank God for his many “signal favours,” as George Washington put it in 1789.

As time went on, more modern traditions were added to the mix. You can usually expect to see a parade (the one put on by Macy’s in New York is particularly famous) and the day is oftentimes filled with football. I’ve written previously about the origin of eating turkey; this mostly started in the United States, but it has since infiltrated Canadian culture too.

But Why Different Months?

Canadian Thanksgiving predates American Thanksgiving by several decades, but that still doesn’t explain why the celebrations are held on different months. Interestingly enough, Canadian Thanksgiving was previously celebrated in November too, but in 1957, the Canadian Parliament moved the date to October. They didn’t want Thanksgiving to fall on the same week as Remembrance Day, which it had been doing.

The other explanation is a far simpler one. Canada is located further north than the United States, so the harvest season typically comes around sooner. In this way, the time of year when you would celebrate the bounties of the harvest would normally be earlier in Canada than in the US.

Aside from that, modern day traditions in both countries are exceedingly similar. We can all gobble up the turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. And pumpkin spice latte, if that’s your sort of thing.