People from different parts of the world constantly compare Americans to Canadians. From our diets to our work cultures, there certainly exists a variety of ways in which we are similar-yet-different — and the same applies to Thanksgiving.
If you are a US resident seeking to enjoy a good holiday dinner, then the second weekend of October is Canada’s prime time. This is because here, the celebrations are in full swing. So, you will get to enjoy stuffing and turkey not once, but two times-about six weeks before the American version. Score!
While both neighboring countries celebrate the big day, there are several differences between their practices and traditions.
History of Thanksgiving Day
Historians argue that it is Canadians who hopped onto the train of Thanksgiving early — decades before US citizens did. The earliest recorded celebration was in 1578, over 40 years before it was held by the American pilgrims. Martin Frobisher, the English explorer, held the first celebration by a European in Newfoundland, North America. After he lost a ship on his voyage to Canada, the explorer apparently held a huge festival to appreciate their safe return from exploring the Northwest passage.
But there is a section composed mainly of Americans that argue that it does not count as the first thanksgiving. This is because such a proper celebration officially takes place to appreciate a good harvest and not a survival story.
Fighting over the first country to hold Thanksgiving seems to go against the spirit of the holiday. Therefore, we should all just shake hands in agreement that the indigenous peoples of North America gave thanks for bountiful food and good harvest way before European explorers showed up.
Why are they different days?
In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October (this happens to be Columbus Day in the United States). Americans, on the other hand, celebrate theirs in the month of November, on the fourth Thursday. One likely explanation for the different dates is the fact that Canada is farther towards the north, and the harvest season comes earlier.
Notably, there was no fixed date for the festival in the country until the mid-20th century. In 1957, Parliament proclaimed that the day should be observed on the current date. It is usually a three-day weekend. Similarly, it wasn’t until the 26th of December 1941 that a bill was signed into law declaring it a US national holiday. The day after the celebration is also a holiday, and that is why the American thanksgiving is a four-day weekend.
Significance of Thanksgiving to both countries
After Canada’s first celebration, German, French, and Scottish immigrants attached their traditions to this harvest festival. But it seems like the celebration holds more significance in America. Of course, it takes four days!
The first American Thanksgiving was held in the winter of 1621 at Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts. The Wampanoag (Native Americans) assisted the arriving pilgrims to fish and cultivate their land. During harvest, they were thankful to God and the Wampanoags, who taught them how to grow their own crops.
During the Civil War, the holiday grew to become a national phenomenon. But it was until President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s era that it was declared a national holiday.
Is Thanksgiving a holiday in every state and every province?
In the United States, the celebration is observed in all the country’s 50 states. In most areas of Canada, however, it is a statutory holiday with the exception of the Atlantic Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island.
Why turkey is Thanksgiving’s mascot
The legend goes that the Native Americans and the Pilgrims sat together to reconcile, celebrate the harvest, and feast. But one element seems to have been conspicuously missing on the table: a turkey. Most accounts from Plymouth Plantation mention fowl and other meat dishes. So how did 88 percent of Americans end up eating the bird every year during Thanksgiving?
One theory explains that the adoption of the big bird as a symbol for the holiday dates back to the time of Sarah Josepha Hale, an American writer. Dubbed ‘the mother of thanksgiving,’ she spent 17 years lobbying for the day to be made a national holiday. According to her, roasted turkey took center stage on this occasion.
Another theory attributes this turkey culture to the Queen of England during the 16th century. A fleet of warships from Spain sank as they headed to attack the country, and she received the news while having dinner. Due to the thrill, she ordered an extra goose, but some early settlers felt inspired and instead roasted a turkey.
Finally, a letter that was written by Edward Winslow, an American pilgrim, mentions turkey hunting trips before meals. But this does not mention that it was indeed a common practice.
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