All About the Canadian Holiday of Thanksgiving

How and When the Holiday is Celebrated

Thanksgiving feast
••• Michael Marquand / Getty Images

Like the United States, Canada gives thanks for its good fortune once a year by expanding their waistbands with bellies full of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Unlike the U.S., the Thanksgiving holiday is not as big a celebration in Canada. Nevertheless, it is a popular time for Canadians to gather with family, so more people than usual are usually traveling that weekend.

When Is Canadian Thanksgiving?

Although the U.S. and Canada share a continent, the two do not share the same day for Thanksgiving. In Canada, the second Monday of October is the statutory, or public, holiday whereas American Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

The Canadian Thanksgiving holiday may officially be observed on the second Monday of October, however, families and friends may generally get together for their Thanksgiving meal on any one of the three days of the three-day holiday weekend.

 Canadian ThanksgivingAmerican Thanksgiving
2018Monday, October 8Thursday, November 23
2019Monday, October 14Thursday, November 22
2020Monday, October 12Thursday, November 26

Like other public holidays in Canada, many businesses and services shut down, like government offices, schools, and banks.

Thanksgiving in Quebec

In Quebec, Thanksgiving or action de grâce as it is known there is celebrated to a much lesser extent there than in the rest of the country, given the holiday’s Protestant origins.

A majority of French Canadians align more with Catholicism. Although the holiday is still celebrated by the English-speaking population in Quebec, fewer businesses are closed that day.

A Brief History of Canadian Thanksgiving

The first government-sanctioned Thanksgiving holiday in Canada took place in November 1879, though it was not until 1957 that the date was set to the second Monday of each October.

It was first organized at the behest of leaders of the Protestant clergy, who appropriated the holiday of American Thanksgiving, which was first observed in 1777 and established as a national day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789. In Canada, the holiday was intended for the “public and solemn” recognition of God’s mercies.

Though Thanksgiving is closely associated with the American celebration, it is believed that the very first Thanksgiving may have occurred in Canada, in 1578, when English explorer Martin Frobisher touched down in the Canadian Arctic after crossing the Pacific Ocean in search of the Northwest Passage. This event is disputed as "the first Thanksgiving" by some because the thanks being given was not for a successful harvest but for staying alive after a long and dangerous journey. 

Black Friday in Canada

Traditionally, Canada has not had a big shopping day after Thanksgiving the way the United States does. This has changed since about 2008 when stores in Canada began offering big discounts, especially targeted at Christmas shoppers, on the day after American Thanksgiving. Black Friday picked up momentum in Canada because it was noticed that Canadians would migrate south of the border to do their shopping in the U.S. to take advantage of the big shopping discounts.

Though still not the shopping phenomenon that it is in the U.S., shopping malls in Canada open early and attract more shoppers than usual, even requiring police presence as well as traffic and parking supervisors.

For the day of the biggest shopping deals in Canada, that would be Boxing Day, which occurs on December 26. It is the direct equivalent of American Black Friday in terms of sales and a true shopping event.