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Canadian Thanksgiving: A History

Okay so ever since I moved to Montreal I’ve been simultaneously confused and fascinated by Canadian Thanksgiving. I just don’t get it. This might be my inner ugly American talking, but I was under the impression that Thanksgiving was exclusively an American holiday about like pilgrims and turkey and casual Native American genocide so like what the hell Canada, you can’t just steal the brutal and shameful history of my PEOPLE and stick a maple leaf on it and call it your own, OKAY?

In the year or so that I’ve lived here, my curiosity has lead me to ask some Canadians about the historical origins of their Thanksgiving celebrations, and this is usually how the conversation goes:

Me: So, Canadian Thanksgiving is coming up, right?
Canadian: Yeah, actually we just call it Thanksgiving.
Me: That’s nice, but everyone knows real Thanksgiving is in November, amirite? So are you excited?!
Canadian: I guess. It’ll be nice to have a three day weekend though, ey?
Me: Yeah, totally. So like, just wondering, what is your Thanksgiving about?
Canadian: What do you mean?
Me: Like, why do you celebrate it? What’s the story?
Canadian: (long pause) I don’t know. Isn’t yours a-boat Columbus or something?
Me: No.
Canadian: Well, I don’t know. We just sit around and eat turkey. It’s not really a big deal.
Me: So you don’t know what the historical significance of the holiday is? You just eat turkey in ignorance?
Canadian: Are you saying we need a reason to eat turkey?

And so on and so forth. Obviously I am really good at talking to people and making friends. But seriously you guys, not a single Canadian that I asked (all of whom are in UNIVERSITY, for crying out loud) could enlighten me about the origins of their own Thanksgiving. What they can tell me is that they eat turkey and watch (CANADIAN???) football (which apparently exists for real and people watch it un-ironically…yeah), which sounds curiously familiar and a lot like what goes down on American Thanksgiving. Did Canada steal our holiday? I turned to my best friend Wikipedia for help.

Ahem: “Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day (Canadian FrenchJour de l’Action de grâce), occurring on the second Monday in October (since 1957), is an annual Canadian holiday to give thanks at the close of the harvest season.”

According to Wiki, even though it wasn’t declared a national holiday until the 1950s, the Canadian tradition of the holiday dates waaaaay back to the 1500s, so it might have even come before the original American Thanksgiving. The history of the holiday is actually really similar to the history of American Thanksgiving, in that both holidays are about giving thanks. Canadian Thanksgiving, again, according to Wiki, was just about giving thanks for the harvest and all that jazz. American Thanksgiving, as anyone who has gone through the American public school system can tell you, is about the pilgrims giving the Native Americans syphilis as a way of saying hey, thanks, for all of their hospitality and food and crops and shelter and stuff. I mean, what?

So there you have it, the complete history of Canadian Thanksgiving. In general, I don’t think Canadians get as into Thanksgiving as Americans do. For whatever reason it just isn’t as big of a deal here as it is at home, which is a total shame because I love me some Thanksgiving food. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Stuffing. Oh my god, stuffing. Pumpkin pie. Now I’m hungry. What was the point I was trying to make? Something about how even though I’m living in Canada I still have to turn to Wikipedia to learn about the local customs. And that even though Canadian Thanksgiving is, historically, at least, pretty similar to American Thanksgiving, and even though it probably came first, American Thanksgiving is still better. Now you know. YOU’RE WELCOME.


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