4 Big Differences Between Canadian and American Thanksgiving

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When you're sitting down for Turkey Day dinner, wow your relatives with factoids about a few of the differences between Canadian and American Thanksgiving.

1. Canada probably did it first.


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There's a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving: friends and family, leftovers, a long weekend ... and don't forget Canada! English explorer Sir Martin Frobisher and his crew first got their thanks on in Newfoundland in 1578, which is widely accepted at the first celebration of Thanksgiving in North America (there is, however, some debate as to when the first Thanksgiving actually occurred, and where). The story goes that Frobisher and company hadn't found the Northwest Passage to the Orient like they'd been hoping to, but still wanted to celebrate a safe arrival in the New World.

The frequently cited first American Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, occurred some 43 years later in 1621. We don't need to tell you the American version is a bit more controversial. The Pilgrims gathered to celebrate God's bounty and a good harvest. The Native Americans who helped the Pilgrims survive—many of whom were killed or exploited, in turn—may or may not have been invited to the party.

2. Canada still celebrates it first.

Since 1957, Canadian Thanksgiving—which the natives simply call Thanksgiving—has occurred on the second Monday of October. But it hasn't always been that way. Years after the first celebration, the holiday occurred sporadically to coincide with larger events, differing by region. And if these events didn't occur in autumn? No big deal. In 1816, the end of the war between Great Britain and France inspired Thanksgiving in both Lower and Upper Canada in May and June, respectively. Then in 1921, the country tried to schedule a two-for-one so that Armistice Day and Thanksgiving would both be celebrated the Monday of the week of November 11. Thanksgiving's a lot less confusing now that Canada's one big tribe and can always count on the same annual three-day weekend.

Back in the U.S., Franklin D. Roosevelt is still regarded as one of the greatest presidents of the 20th century. He helped America recover from the Great Depression and fight a world war. He taught us that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." But no one talks about how FDR ruffled everyone's turkey feathers in 1939. Another beloved president, one Abraham Lincoln, first declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. The president was given the power to choose the date of the holiday each year, but the last Thursday of November became the standard. Holidays were difficult to celebrate during the Great Depression. Many businesses worried that most Americans wouldn't spend money Christmas shopping if Thanksgiving fell on the last day, or the fifth Thursday, of the month, as it did in 1939. So Roosevelt moved the holiday one week earlier, to the dismay of many Americans. Calendars were out-of-date. School schedules were disrupted. And retailers still complained that they were losing income. Some states decided to ignore the presidential decision and celebrate Thanksgiving on the usual day; others followed the president. For the next two years, Roosevelt made Thanksgiving the second to last Thursday of the month. But no one likes to fight over turkey dinner. In 1941, Congress officially declared Thanksgiving to be the fourth Thursday of November every year. Let them eat pie!

3. Holiday, Legislate!


Thanksgiving's a statutory holiday in most of Canada, meaning that it's celebrated nationally, but can also be legislated at the provincial and territorial levels. (If you want more information on the Canadian government, you'll have to ask Google about that.) But in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, Thanksgiving's optional. Most Canadians still get the day off, but others get paid overtime for working. One word of advice: Tell them thank you.

Thanksgiving's a federal holiday in the U.S., so most Americans get a day off to stuff themselves—and then a long weekend to reheat leftovers. Still, many others, from hospital employees to store clerks to restaurant workers, hold down the fort over the holiday. Another word of advice: Tell them thank you.

4. There's no Black Friday in the Great White North.


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Historically, Canada's biggest shopping day of the year is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Imagine Black Friday, but with thousands of people returning disappointing gifts. There are sales and lines and yes, sometimes even a boxing match in the aisles. (Not everyone in Canada can be friendly.) This year, some Canadian retailers are jumping on the Black Friday bandwagon to bring home the Canadian bacon and keep border town residents from traveling to the States for holiday shopping. Two "Black Friday" events—why didn't American think of that?! Oh, wait....

Each year, American retailers sell massive amounts of inventory on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and the much less ominous sounding Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving. (The latter term was coined back in 2005. Can you believe it's only been seven years?) The two events are some of the biggest shopping days of the year. This year, the most crazy, err, dedicated shoppers are spending their vacation days camping out in front of stores up to a week before Black Friday. Hey, it's a free country.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 20, 2012 - 11:00am
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