The Truth About Canadian Vs. American Thanksgiving

It was Abraham Lincoln in 1863 who declared the last Thursday of November as a day of "Thanksgiving and Praise" (per the National Park Service). And, ever since, the celebration of Thanksgiving in the U.S. has become one of the nation's favorite holidays packed full of traditions (via Statista). 

One such tradition is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which generates about 50 million viewers each year (per People). Another is the presidential pardoning of a turkey, which first occurred in 1963 by then-President John F. Kennedy. By 1989, it became an official tradition, starting with former President George H. W. Bush (via History). And, of course, there's the food and plenty of it: turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and more, with a full traditional Thanksgiving meal totaling anywhere from 3,000 to 4,500 calories, according to ABC News.

But while many Americans are gearing up for Thanksgiving, Canadians have already celebrated it. In both countries, the holiday is recognized as a time to give thanks for food and family, and the indigenous people in both countries traditionally held festivals in the fall in gratitude of the harvest before European settlement (via Smithsonian Magazine). But what are the differences between the two Thanksgivings? Here's the truth about Canadian vs. American Thanksgiving.

Canada claims the first North American Thanksgiving

While Thanksgiving in the U.S. was declared a national holiday in 1863, it was declared a national holiday in Canada over a decade later, in 1879. During those early years before being declared a national holiday, however, Canadian Thanksgiving was held in October or November, differing each year (per Dickinson College). Then, in 1957, the Canadian Parliament confirmed the second Monday of October as "a day of general thanksgiving to almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed" (via Canada's History).

While Thanksgiving wasn't declared a national holiday in Canada until 1879, the first Canadian Thanksgiving is recognized as happening as far back as 1578. English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew were looking for a Northwest Passage, and after a series of storms in the Arctic, the fleet came back together in what is now Newfoundland, Canada. The explorer and his crew celebrated their gratitude at making it through the rough trip, according to CBC Kids.

Americans trace their first Thanksgiving to Plymouth Rock in 1621 when Pilgrim settlers enjoyed their first successful corn harvest with a celebratory feast that included the indigenous Wampanoag people (via History).

Thanksgiving isn't as big of a deal in Canada

Along with the differences in origin story, there are other differences between American and Canadian Thanksgivings. In all 50 states, Thanksgiving is an official American holiday, but in Canada, Thanksgiving is an optional day off in the four Atlantic provinces, as Culture Trip noted.

Overall, the holiday is not as huge a deal in Canada as it is in America. For example, Canadians do have parades and celebrations, but not to the scale of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, as Bustle noted. And both countries actually have American football matchups: Four teams from the Canadian Football League play on Thanksgiving (via Almanac). But the football game in America draws tens of millions of viewers (via Sports Media Watch).

Another way the two holidays differ? In the U.S., Black Friday, with its crazy shopping deals, has been tacked on as an unofficial part of American Thanksgiving. With Canada's Thanksgiving in October, the holidays may not be at the forefront of your mind as the weather is still pretty nice, so, instead of shopping, a popular Canadian Thanksgiving tradition is going on a hike or a long walk (per Bustle).