What is the history behind Thanksgiving in Canada?

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And why must we thieve holidays from the Americans?

We all know that the Yanks just luuuuv to go big or go home. When it comes to triumphant, orchestral music, syrupy montages of people crying and hugging each other, and overly-repeated blasts of footage of whatever their latest accolade is, I don't think there's a question that they're, “The king of the world!”.

Actually...James Cameron (director of the 1997 blockbuster, Titanic) and his films are a great representation of the pompous, show-offy, over-the-top arrogance of the United States of America.

Except, wait a second...HE'S CANADIAN!!

Which is kind of metaphoric for how Canadians lap up that American malarkey. True, we are much more reserved and apologetic as a society. That stereotype of Canadians saying, “Sooorry” too much? That's true, let's face it – not that there's anything wrong with that.

To be clear, there's nothing wrong with Canadians. We're sweet. We're courteous. I love us!

But deep down inside, I think we secretly wish we had some of the confidence that Americans have.

The reason I think this is because of the way we not-so-subtly try to copy some of their holidays. And I think as the years have gone by, and we are now more inundated with their media than ever before, that we're even more brainwashed than ever.

Here are the top three holidays that spring to mind when I think about Canada robbing American holidays:

 

Canada Day – we now make cakes with Canadian flags on them. And don't lie, and tell me you don't flip through the July issue of Canadian Living every year, even if it's in the supermarket line, to find truly “Canadian” ideas to celebrate Canada Day. Either that, or you pick up Martha Stewart's magazine and just change whatever is coloured in red, white, and blue to just red and white. The magazines are out at the same time because Canada Day is just three days before Independence Day. How convenient. Oh - and we have the fireworks just like they do. 

 

Halloween – we've really joined their ranks when it comes to spending a lot of extra money on getting our houses all decked out in frightening visuals.

When I was a kid there were none of those shenanigans. Mom and dad handed us a Sobey's bag (the lucky/greedy/spoiled children got pillow cases) and off we trotted around our bland, undecorated neighbourhoods, with dumb grins on our faces thinking about all the sugar we'd jam down our gobs later that night and the next day at school (teachers must LOVE Halloween). I used to stash Rockets in the back of my closet and pretend to be having a pill withdrawal, and run dramatically in there sometimes to ram a full pack in my mouth. I'm serious, you guys. I don't know where I learned about junkies at the age of about eight...probably from Jem and the Holograms, actually. A few of the foster girls that lived in Jerrica Jensen's Starlight House were quite the handful. I distinctly remember one episode where one of them tried LSD and thought she could fly. Who else remembers this? Anyway, obviously I was inspired enough by drug addicts to secretly act out their charming actions in the safety of my closet.

But I digress...

Decorations were a rarity...there was only ONE house on my street that made any attempt whatsoever. It was the house next to the Boogays (this is not some made up Halloween surname, it's real, I swear), but we didn't know the name of the man who lived there. He played creepy, murder-y sounds on his stereo, had a few cobwebs in the doorway, and kept the house very dark. He opened the front door very slowly, and only put his hand around when he answered it. So I figure he was either a trend-setter or a kidnapper.

But nowadays, we're total pros at placing giant, inflatable, red-eyed, high-pitch squealing spiders on our lawns, and baby vampires and zombies going up our steps. We sure know our stuff when it comes to frightening the badoozies out of all those cute little neighbourhood ghouls and goblins! The next generation ain't gonna be afraid of NOTHIN when they grow up. Either that, or they'll all become serial killers and that's how the apocalypse will happen. Who knows?

 

Thanksgiving – we totally copy the Yanks' big turkey/mashed potatoes/pumpkin pie-gorging holiday. We too love to fork sick amounts of cooked dinner down the pipe, and then avoid the dishes by passing out to snore and drool on the couch for a few hours. Then later that night, while we're watching Charlie Brown's (Boring) Thanksgiving special, we just luuuuv to let those ripe dressing and gravy farts make the house nice and cozy. Yup, that's us!

When it comes to the whole history of Thanksgiving, the Americans really “yam” (haha) it up. We all know about how the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, dressed up in their finest bonnets and smocks, and held a feast to celebrate their bountiful harvest. Their cornucopias were over-flowing with the fruits (and vegetables) of the earth.

But I clearly remember asking several of my teachers in elementary school, “Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada?”

None of them had an answer for me. They just laughed and patted me on the head, and said, “We'll talk about that later in class,” implying that I was nothing more than a curious little imp. Well what a bunch of brazen liars they were. We never talked about it in class. EV-ER.

Am I missing something here? What is the reason for celebrating Thanksgiving in Canada?

According to Wikipedia, the history dates back to 1578, when one Martin Frobisher (whoever he is), went in search of the Northwest Passage (a seaway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans). The rest of the article is filled with a lot of long-winded blibber-blabber that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and kind of rambles on deliriously about a bunch of expeditions that happened on a string of different dates. Bottom line, it states that American explorers brought their traditions over here to Canada.

As for the date, it was originally celebrated in November, same as the Americans, but was moved to October to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a serious history.

Huh?

Allegedly, from there on in, the reason for giving thanks changed every year, depending on what was happening at the time. Except then they changed it back to November, in combination with Remembrance Day, but THEN, they changed it back to two separate holidays. 

I realize that Wikipedia is not the most reliable source, so you historians out there, PLEASE – do enlighten me with some answers I've been seeking since grade school.

Other sources state that the reason Canadian Thanksgiving is earlier is because due to the climate differences, harvests are held earlier in the year.

But wait, I thought Canadian Thanksgiving had nothing to DO with harvest?!

Now this is all falling into place.

The reason we don't promote our own history of the holiday is now becoming more clear to me...it's because the history of our Thanksgiving is completely un-clear! It makes no sense! My God, if you were to make a movie about Canadian Thanksgiving it'd be more disorienting than Mulholland Drive!

Gee, I wonder why this is the case...could it be because there IS no reason for Canadian Thanksgiving and that we simply STOLE the holiday???

I figure that the Canadian film and television and advertising industries have better things to spend their money on than trying to develop a script or campaign to promote the history of Thanksgiving.

Whether it's Thanksgiving, Halloween, or Canada Day, it's just easier to piggy back on the States' traditions. Just get Canadian citizens to hit up their local Dollaramas and Targets, support the retail industry, and copycat America's celebration-style, which is based mostly on materialism.

And really...is it that big of a deal if we enjoy some of their traditions? I mean, we still have Tim Horton's and hockey and Beaver Tails. They are our neighbours, after all, I'm sure they don't mind. Neighbours borrow cups of sugar from each other all the time. And you know what? Even if there's no need to buy all of that stuff, their holidays are kind of fun, let's be honest.

So on that note - go enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend, everyone! Let's not over-think the meaning behind it all. Let's just enjoy the stuff, should we choose to buy it. The stuff, and the people, obviously.

Enjoy spending time with your loved-ones around a table that overflows with the fruits of the earth, and from the bakery aisle at Costco. Enjoy the conversation. Enjoy the heavenly aromas of the turkey, the broccoli and cheese casserole, the buttery carrots, pumpkin and apple pies wafting through the house. Enjoy not having to go to work on Monday.

And this is one very important point...if you buy none of the other stuff...I hope you have by now visited Bath and Body Works and purchased your three-wick Pumpkin Cupcake-scented candles to have on hand for those glorious after-dinner aromas.

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Recent comments

  • Michael Totten
    August 28, 2014 - 17:01

    You filled your article with words, but did not even bother to go to the Canadian government website which gives a detailed history. Yet I am almost certain you were paid considerably more for your words thrown together than this author was for tracking down and sorting out the actual information. http://www.celebrations360.com/index.php/why-is-thanksgiving-in-canada-so-early-8662/

  • seanoairborne
    October 18, 2013 - 16:04

    There were a lot of United Empire Loyalists that made their way to Canada during the American Revolution that were as much a part of America as Canadians were of Canada and they brought their traditions with them.Thanksgiving being one.Many of those folks were born and raised in what would become after the revolution the United States of America.People don't start new traditions because they moved somewhere else.They keep the ones they have and put a little different twist to them.Just like Guy Fawkes Day in Canada.Guy Fawkes didn't have anything to do with Canada,but Canadians still celebrate the holiday,Why?Because many Canadians are of British extraction and they just continue with the traditions of their Motherland.It's simple and hopefully an answer to the writers question of,"why do Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving"!!

  • bob
    October 17, 2013 - 07:55

    I thought it went back to one of the early fishing admiral's before NL was a colony who had a feast of fish - not turkey - in the fall to give thanks to the indentured slaves for the bountyful season catch of Cod.

  • Bubble
    October 15, 2013 - 12:34

    I don't believe Thankgiving originated with the Americans but instead from British colonists in America. It came to Canada when British Loyalists were driven out of the US. These modern day celebrations you talk about are just good old fashion marketing - it's not about American or Canadian but about money.

  • Karl
    October 14, 2013 - 22:18

    Great article I just want to point out that you never should think you are stealing from someone... The meaning of the date, celebration or whatever for a person depends on his background and history...on the little things your grand parents told you when you were a child..no one is stealing from Americans...they are not "the kings" of the world clearly. I am a nationalized Canadian that usually do not celebrate thanksgiving only do if I am invited to do so by someone whom this celebration has a truly meaning.. Think Canada is diversity, multicultural and we respect this fact! Happy thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends.

  • Magda
    October 14, 2013 - 14:03

    Hmm. You're right that the Canadian Thanksgiving as celebrated today (with all the Yankee fixings on the menu) probably borrows generously from the American version. But days of thanksgiving, often religious in nature, were celebrated throughout Canada's history for military victories, harvests, the end of cholera, etc. (You can check it out on the Canadian gov't website: http://www.pch.gc.ca/eng/1359131492589/1359131766879). A Thanksgiving day, with a capital T, wasn't fully streamlined and assigned to a fixed date until 1957. And let's face it, we probably have modern commercialism (both Canadian and American) to thank for this homespun day of gluttony. And as for the whole "historical significance" of the American Thanksgiving, the story of the Pilgrims and Indians is essentially a nation-building myth. Did it happen? Sure, written sources back it up. Was it the "first Thanksgiving" in the "New World?" No way. For Americans in the North, hyping this obscure Pilgrim feast was a way of highlighting New England's role as the alleged birthplace of America. So is Thanksgiving historical propaganda? Served a la mode!

  • Heidi
    October 14, 2013 - 07:47

    @Kidd - no, I don't know the history of Thanksgiving in Canada, despite having asked several teachers through the years. Which is why I invite anyone who actually knows the history to please share, as is stated in the post. If you have any details on this, I'd love to know! And if you actually take it seriously that I am making fun of Canada, please read the description of this blog.

  • Kidd
    October 13, 2013 - 18:25

    You claim you are Canadian? Not only do you not know Canadian history you make fun of us. The first Thanksgiving took place 43 years before The Pilgrims even landed. So lets talk about who STOLE what from whom.

  • ROY
    October 12, 2013 - 18:14

    HOLIDAY u forgot APRIL 15th