Two Thanksgivings: Differences in Canadian and American Celebrations

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Both Canada and the United States set aside a day for giving thanks. Celebrations in each country are both similar and very different.

Last week was Thanksgiving in the United States. Canada’s Thanksgiving occurs in October. This year, my husband and I celebrated both, spending Canadian Thanksgiving with our daughter in Vancouver, and U.S. Thanksgiving with family and friends in Arizona.

The underlying theme of giving thanks is the same in both countries. In both countries, it is a time for family and friends to gather. And the traditional Thanksgiving meal menu includes turkey and pumpkin pie in both countries. But there are differences in the celebrations and traditions.

    • Canadian Thanksgiving occurs on the second Monday in October. It is a statutory holiday in all Canadian jurisdictions, except for the Atlantic provinces, where it is an optional holiday. U.S. Thanksgiving is celebrated nationally on the fourth Thursday of November. The day after Thanksgiving is a day off for many companies and schools, making Thanksgiving a four-day weekend.
    • Spending time with family is an important part of the holiday in both countries. People in the U.S., where Thanksgiving is the year’s biggest holiday occasion, are more likely to travel long distances to be “home” or with family. In Canada, people are more likely to save long trips “home” for the Christmas period.
    • Thanksgiving parades are prominent in the U.S., the largest being Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Macy’s parade has been a tradition for 87 years and is seen by 3.5 million people in New York and viewed on television by 50 million. Controversy surrounded this year’s parade, as animal activists protested the inclusion of a SeaWorld float and ranchers protested PETA spokeswoman Joan Jett being featured on the South Dakota float, resulting in Joan Jett and her rockers changing floats.Parades have not been part of my Canadian Thanksgiving experience, although the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest parade occurs on Thanksgiving Day and is televised nationally.
    • Many U.S. churches schedule special Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Eve services. Although some churches in Canada may offer services on Thanksgiving Monday, it is not a widespread practice. Most give their regular Sunday services a Thanksgiving theme.
    • Football is associated with Thanksgiving in the U.S. almost as closely as turkey and pumpkin pie. Three National Football League games are played on Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving weekend is also big for college football, with many games scheduled on the Saturday. I don’t usually associate football with Canadian Thanksgiving, but the Canadian Football League Thanksgiving Classic features two games on Thanksgiving Monday.
    • In my hometown of Winnipeg, Canada, the Winnipeg Free Press does not publish a newspaper on Thanksgiving Monday. The Arizona Republic publishes a Thanksgiving Day edition, delivered with two to three inches of flyers advertising Black Friday sales (see next point).
  • Canadian Thanksgiving is not associated with shopping. In the U.S. the day after Thanksgiving is a huge shopping day of major sales. Black Friday, as it is known, is often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Stores open early and people line up, sometimes camping overnight to get the door-opener deals. Over the past decade, store openings have crept earlier and earlier, from six in the morning, to four, to three, to midnight, and to ten p. m. Thanksgiving Day. This year, some retailers opened stores at 6:00 p. m. on Thanksgiving Day. Some have offered pre-Thanksgiving Black Friday deals.In Canada, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is the day associated with this type of sale and shopping frenzy. Over the past years, Boxing Day has also changed to become Boxing Week and retailers have touted sales ahead of Christmas as early Boxing Day specials.In recent years, retailers in Canada have held Black Friday sales on the days around U.S. Thanksgiving to discourage cross-border shopping and encourage Canadians to spend their money in Canada.Although we may have much to give thanks for, it seems we are still eager to get more stuff, especially if it appears to be a bargain.

Are there other similarities or differences? What have been your Thanksgiving experiences?

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  1. What a great post! I have some issues about how Thanksgiving in the US is increasingly overrun by Black Friday/Thursday. It is nice to read that things are purer north of the border!

  2. I’m a Winnipeger living in Phoenix. I celebrate both both Thanksgiving days. I look forward to reading more of your blog

  3. Thanks Bill and Rick. Black Friday is becoming more and more of a thing in Canada, but it is timed to line up with U.S. Black Friday sales, so doesn’t occur at the same time as Canadian Thanksgiving.