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Published on Oct 24, 2013 in Featured Articles, News, North America

Canadian Thanksgiving

When most Americans think of Thanksgiving we conjure up an image of a uniquely American holiday, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, with turkey and all the trimmings as our traditional meal. We believe Thanksgiving to be a uniquely American holiday. However, Canada’s Thanksgiving actually pre-dates that of the United States, and is held on the second Monday in October.

There’s no one origin for Canadian Thanksgiving. Instead, it resulted from combining a number of different celebrations of giving thanks. One such celebration, and Canada’s first Thanksgiving, took place when explorer Martin Frobisher sailed from England, and arrived in Newfoundland in 1578. Upon his arrival he held a celebration, giving thanks for his safe passage. This Thanksgiving took place 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

In addition, European farmers customarily held celebrations at harvest time to give thanks for their good fortune. In these celebrations farm workers would fill a curved goat horn with fruit and grain as a symbol of abundance. They called this filled goat’s horn a cornucopia, or horn of plenty. When European farmers migrated to Canada they brought this tradition of celebration with them. In addition, French settlers, who arrived in Canada with Samuel de Champlain, also held celebrations. They gave thanks for their safe passage, the land they farmed, and their abundance of food. They also shared their food with neighboring Indians. Also, the citizens of Halifax, celebrating the end of the Seven Year’s War in 1763, had a special day of Thanksgiving.

These, and other celebrations of giving thanks, were popular in Canada for centuries. Eventually, in 1879, the Canadian government combined all these celebrations of giving thanks into a single national holiday, and set November 6th as the nation’s Thanksgiving holiday. That date was changed in 1957 to the second Monday in October because Remembrance Day, held on November 11th, meant that there was two national holidays in the same week. It’s remained the second Monday in October ever since.

Alan Refkin

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