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article imageThanksgiving Day in Canada and the U.S. — The same, but different

By Karen Graham     Oct 6, 2018 in World
Ottawa - The origins of Canadian and American Thanksgiving are unique, and while there are many similarities, as for example, celebrating the harvest season and eating turkey, there are also many differences.
Thanksgiving Day, Jour de l'action de grâce, is a national holiday in Canada, occurring on the second Monday in October, which celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the past year.
Many Americans are surprised to learn that Canada even has a Thanksgiving Day, seeing as in the U.S., children are taught the first Thanksgiving occurred in November 1621 at Plymouth Rock, where pilgrims settlers and Wampanoag peoples shared a congenial harvest table laden with turkey and all the trimmings, and of course, pumpkin pie.
Another historically inaccurate depiction.of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth.
Another historically inaccurate depiction.of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth.
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914)
However, Canada can also claim the first feast of Thanksgiving. In the Canadian Encyclopedia, the first celebration of Thanksgiving in North America occurred during the 1578 third voyage of Martin Frobisher to Baffin Island in what is the present Canadian Territory of Nunavut.
The crew dined on a meal of salt beef, biscuits and mushy peas to celebrate and give thanks for their safe arrival. However, Samuel de Champlain is also given credit for a "feast of thanksgiving" in Port-Royal on November 14, 1606, which saw Europeans and Indigenous peoples breaking bread together. This feast was all part of Champlain's attempt to stave off scurvy in the colonists.
Charles William Jefferys: The  Order of Good Times  was established by Samuel de Champlain in 1606.
Charles William Jefferys: The "Order of Good Times" was established by Samuel de Champlain in 1606.
Crédit: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, numéro d'acquisition 1996-282-3.
Centered around the harvest season
But it really doesn't matter which country supposedly had the first Thanksgiving as we know it today. As we enjoy our Thanksgiving feast - wherever we live, it is with the knowledge that it is a harvest festival that predates Canada and the U.S. Indigenous peoples in North America have a history of holding communal feasts in celebration of the fall harvest that predates the arrival of European settlers.
Shopping for pumpkins at Thanksgiving in Ottawa s Byward Market.
Shopping for pumpkins at Thanksgiving in Ottawa's Byward Market.
Lars Plougmann (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Many people wonder why Canada's Thanksgiving falls earlier than the holiday in the U.S. And while there are a number of theories on why this is— one is that the harvest, which is believed to be part of the history behind Thanksgiving, simply starts earlier in Canada than it does in the US.
Regardless of the reason, Thanksgiving wasn't called as a national holiday until 1879. Even then, the date wasn't fixed until 1957, when the government officially named the second Monday of October as Thanksgiving Day, according to Culture Trip.
A Thanksgiving Service  attended by Canadian troops  being held in the Cambrai Cathedral (Notre-Dame...
A Thanksgiving Service, attended by Canadian troops, being held in the Cambrai Cathedral (Notre-Dame de Grâce chapel) Date 13 October 1918
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums - Unknown photographer
The same but different holiday
While a Canadian Thanksgiving may have started out as a religious holiday, in today's climate, Thanksgiving is more a chance to have Monday off from work and just relax. Although October 8 is a national holiday, in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia celebrating Thanksgiving is optional.
In Quebec, the holiday is not as big a deal. There, it is called Action de Grace, and the celebrations are treated with much less fanfare than in other parts of Canada or the US. Also, in Canada, the Thanksgiving meal can be served on any day the family chooses, and not just on Monday.
In the U.S. - Thanksgiving is a national holiday that falls on the fourth Thursday of November, meaning Americans get a four-day work break. The Macy's parade and football dominate people's celebrations and a big Thanksgiving meal on Thursday ensures there are plenty of leftovers to nibble on.
So yes, there is a certain amount of sameness in the holidays, just as there are some differences. But regardless of where we live or our circumstances, it is a time to reflect on the past year - and a good reason to take a few minutes to step outdoors and feast on nature. Fall is a beautiful time of year. So Happy Thanksgiving Canada!
More about Canada, Thanksgiving day, Similarities, National holiday, second Monday of October
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