Thanksgiving in Canada | History & Traditions

Happy Thanksgiving on a wooden tag with pumpkins and autumn leaves. 3 October 2022 11:55 AM: Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, unlike our southern neighbours who celebrate the holiday in November. This year, Thanksgiving day Canada is on Monday, October 10, 2022. Early October is a transitioning stage for Canadians. It is around this time that Canadians wave goodbye to sunny days and settle in for the winter. What better way to head into winter than a nice Thanksgiving family dinner?

Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada?

Thanksgiving is rooted in Canada’s Indigenous values, including giving thanks for surviving winter and for receiving crops and game as a reward for their hard work. First Nations traditions would include feasting, prayer, dance and other ceremonies. However, the concept of thanksgiving was influenced by our American neighbours.

Thanksgiving finds its origins in the 17th century. In 1620, a group of religious separatists left England to establish a colony in the New World. After landing on the coast of current-day Massachusets, the colonists formed an alliance with the nearby Wampanoag community. The Wampanoag people taught the “pilgrims”, as they are now called, how to cultivate corn, catch fish, and avoid poisonous plants. 

Thanks to the Wampanoag, the pilgrims survived their first winter and held a successful harvest the next fall. After the successful harvest, a celebratory feast took place in the fall of 1621 between the Wampanoag and the pilgrims. This is commonly referred to as the first thanksgiving feast. It wasn’t until 1957 that Thanksgiving became an official holiday in Canada. Since then, the day has served as a way to give thanks for good fortunes in the past year. To learn more about the history of Thanksgiving in Canada, click here.

What Thanksgiving in Canada Stands for Today

Thankfully, most of us do not have to worry about holding a successful harvest every year. However, there are many things in our lives that we can be thankful for. Even though the Thanksgiving holiday originally celebrated a successful harvest, today it holds a different meaning. Before Thanksgiving dinner, Canadians give thanks for all the good fortunes they had in the past year.

Thanksgiving started off as a celebration that includes multiple cultures and religions and it remains that way to this day. Unlike many other holidays, Thanksgiving is a non-religious celebration that revolves around the idea of giving thanks. Thanksgiving is a holiday that holds meaning for many people, no matter what their cultures or beliefs are.

Not only is Thanksgiving about giving thanks but it is also about helping those who were not as fortunate as us. Today, Thanksgiving is also a time to help the needy. Multiple food banks hold Thanksgiving food drives to distribute food to those who need it. Donating to these food drives is one of the many ways you can help those in need. The idea of giving thanks is intertwined with helping people who are not as fortunate.

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Canada Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving has become somewhat of a global holiday. Many different countries around the world have their own version of Thanksgiving. Canadian thanksgiving comes with many traditions unique to Canada. In this section, we will explore Thanksgiving in Canada and the many unique practices that come with it.

Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving is a family holiday that is celebrated with family, neighbours and family friends. The Thanksgiving feast is the main event that takes place during the holiday. It is a great way to reunite with family members that don’t live close enough to meet regularly. If you don’t have family close by, you can invite friends and neighbours to a Thanksgiving dinner.

The Thanksgiving feast is one of the most iconic feasts in Canada. But what exactly is in a thanksgiving feast? A typical Thanksgiving feast consists of a whole turkey, gravy, stuffing and roasted veggies, with turkey being the centrepiece. Of course, every family has its own traditions and the feast can vary from household to household. Some common dishes on a Thanksgiving table are mashed potatoes, various pies and casseroles and cranberry sauce.

Canada Thanksgiving traditional dinner with roasted turkey, side dishes, and pumpkin pie.
Traditional Thanksgiving dinner with roasted turkey, side dishes, and pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving Weekend

While Thanksgiving day is always on the second Monday of October, the Thanksgiving holiday lasts multiple days. In fact, the Thanksgiving feast is usually not even on Thanksgiving day. It is mainly on Thanksgiving weekend, which comes before the day itself. Thanksgiving Weekend is a great time for family members to get together. Oftentimes, relatives that live in different provinces get together and enjoy the Thanksgiving feast together.

Thanksgiving Activities

Fall is a special time in Canada, and the Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect time to take part in autumn activities. Whether you take a drive in the country to view the spectacular trees changing colours, attend a local fall fair, or visit a pumpkin patch, you’ll find many events to join. You may even want to bake a pumpkin pie, which is a staple at the Thanksgiving dinner table!

A Thanksgiving event can include a trip to a pumpkin farm.
A Thanksgiving event includes a trip to a pumpkin farm.

Sports Traditions

Like our southern neighbours, Canadians also watch football on Thanksgiving day. Both the Canadian Football League (CFL) and NFL host Thanksgiving games on the holiday. It is a widely practiced tradition for Canadians to watch the Thanksgiving games. The CFL holds a Thanksgiving classic which is a doubleheader featuring four different teams. The games air on National TV as well as multiple sports channels. 

Is Thanksgiving a Statutory Holiday?

Yes, Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in Canada … for the most part. Most of Canada recognizes Thanksgiving as a statutory holiday. In the four Maritime provinces, however, Thanksgiving is an optional holiday. That means employers might still choose to give employees the day off but they do not have to.

Thanksgiving is a day that holds meaning for many Canadians. It is a time to gather with family and enjoy a festive meal while also giving thanks for everything we have. It’s also a time to reflect on the origins of the holiday and the role of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. The First Nations people are an integral part of our culture, history and future and to whom we owe a great debt. Furthermore, Thanksgiving is a time to help those in need, whether it be through a food drive or donating to local charities.

If you’re celebrating your first Thanksgiving in Canada, we hope it’s filled with gratitude in the spirit of the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

For more information, tools, and free webinars about living in Canada visit our Settling in Canada resource page. We’ll help you to settle in Canada successfully!

Zain Usmani Profile Pic

My name is Zain Usmani and I am a freelance content writer who currently resides in Mississauga, Ontario. I immigrated from Pakistan to Canada 5 years ago and have lived in many cities ever since. I have lived in Calgary AB, Edmonton AB, Regina SK, London ON, and Mississauga ON, while visiting over 40 Canadian cities and towns. I have a great passion for writing and I love helping people through it.

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