Football, food comas, and family: at first glance, Canadian and American Thanksgiving celebrations seem identical. So why are they celebrated on different days – nay, in different months? Let us take you on a journey back in time, to the early days of our respective nations, to uncover the truth behind Canadian and American Thanksgiving’s weirdly divergent dates. You’re welcome.
The American Story
It’s well known that US Thanksgiving has its origins in a 100+ person harvest dinner party co-hosted by English Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag nation at Plymouth Rock in 1621. What’s less well known, though, is that the holiday wasn’t always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Many historians put the original Plymouth date in October, and for years, Thanksgiving was annually presidentially decreed, with the holiday date shifting around each year. (In 1789, George Washington proclaimed that November 26 was Thanksgiving; in 1795, he declared that February 19 was the big day. Whatever, Washington.)
All that changed with Abraham Lincoln. In 1863, Lincoln issued a presidential decree that Thanksgiving would fall annually on the fourth Thursday of November, and there it stuck – with a few exceptions. During the Depression, Theodore Roosevelt tried to push the holiday one week earlier, in the hopes that the extra week would give shoppers more time to spend their cash before Christmas. The idea didn’t stick, but we kind of feel like Black Friday has more than made up for it.
The Canadian Story
Back in Canada, the whole giving-thanks thing unfolded quite differently. Some historians argue that our own first Thanksgiving happened back in 1578, when pirate-explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew celebrated a safe landing at Baffin Island with prayers, a sermon and an oh-so-festive meal of salt beef, biscuits and mushy peas. (It’s what they had, ok?) To be fair, though, Frobisher’s fête was a bit of a one-off; Canadian Thanksgiving got its real start in 1859, when a group of Protestant clergy petitioned the government for a mid-week, church-centric holiday to celebrate the harvest. After it became an official thing in 1879 – with a date that changed every year by parliamentary decree, duh – Canadian Thanksgiving started to loosen its tie a bit and incorporate more commercial and secular influences. In 1907, the railway companies convinced the Canadian government to move Thanksgiving from mid-week to Monday, essentially creating a whole new long weekend. Way to go, train people!
Fast forward to 1957, when Parliament finally came to its senses, stopped issuing annual decrees for different dates, and settled Thanksgiving officially on our beloved second Monday of October. Personally (we’re not biased, we swear), we’re big fans of the Canadian version. It’s prime fall weather (pretty colours! outdoor activity!), the traditional meal can be on any day of the weekend, and there’s plenty of delicious local food to be consumed. Best of all? It’s Halloween, not Christmas, that’s just around the corner.