What to Know About Canadian Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving feast

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Just like many people do in the United States, Canadians show appreciation for their good fortune once a year on Thanksgiving, when bellies are filled with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

The Thanksgiving holiday is not as big of a celebration in Canada, though it is a popular time to gather with family, so more people than usual travel that weekend.

Thanksgiving Dates in Canada and the U.S.

Although the U.S. and Canada share a continent, the two countries do not honor the Thanksgiving holiday on the same day. Thanksgiving in the U.S. is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November nationwide. In Canada, the second Monday of October is the official statutory (public) holiday—in all provinces and territories except Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Even though the holiday is on Monday, families and friends generally get together for their Thanksgiving meal on any of the three days of the holiday weekend.

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

  Canadian Thanksgiving American Thanksgiving
2019 Monday, October 14 Thursday, November 28
2020 Monday, October 12 Thursday, November 26
2021 Monday, October 11 Thursday, November 25

Thanksgiving in Quebec

In Quebec, Thanksgiving is known as action de grâce and is celebrated to a much lesser extent 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.

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. Protestant clergy leaders organized the special day, appropriating the U.S. holiday which was first observed in 1777 and established as a national day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789. In Canada, the holiday was meant to recognize the “public and solemn” of God’s mercies.

Though Thanksgiving is closely associated with the celebration in the U.S., it is believed that the very first celebration may have occurred in Canada in 1578, when English explorer Sir 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 popular shopping day after Thanksgiving the way the U.S. does. Around 2008, stores in Canada began offering big discounts—especially targeted at Christmas shoppers—on the day after the U.S. 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 generous shopping discounts.

Though still not the phenomenon that it is in the U.S., Black Friday does equal shopping malls in Canada opening early and attracting more people than usual, and the presence of police as well as traffic and parking supervisors. Black Friday sales in 2018 even went above those of Boxing Day (December 26), traditionally Canada's principal shopping and sales event of the year.

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