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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. 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.) While Black Friday has picked up in Canada, it isn't nearly the mess that it is in the United States.

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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Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing

INGREDIENTS

1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

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