There are loads of traditions that go with Thanksgiving – and most of them have to do with the United States. Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada each autumn too, though. Things are different at Thanksgiving Canada.
For one thing, Thanksgiving in Canada is marked on the second Monday of October rather than the the fourth Thursday in November. Celebrations did wander over the (mostly autumn) calendar through Canada’s history, until 1957 when the second Monday in October was made the official date of Thanksgiving in Canada.
Canadians aren’t that strict about having a family get together on that Monday, however: all across the weekend preceding Thanksgiving Monday you may find people in Canada getting together for a family meal or doing other autumn holiday sorts of things.
These don’t, however, usually include plans for a big post Thanksgiving holiday shopping rush such as often occurs in the US. In Canada the big sales rush comes after Christmas instead. It is also less common for Canadians to travel long distances for Thanksgiving. That too is more common at Christmastime.
There’s bound to be a festive meal or two or three at Thanksgiving in Canada though, and very likely turkey will be the star dish, with stuffing and rolls to go along. Potatoes in many forms, sweet potatoes to golden potatoes, mashed to boiled to roasted, are part of the meal. You might find find them mixed with cabbage as colcannon or, on occasion, as the fried potatoes topped with gravy and cheese curds dish that is poutine Winter and autumn root vegetables including carrots and Brussels sprouts are often found on Thanksgiving tables in Canada too, along with cabbage, onions, and winter squash. You will often find cranberries, as sauce and dried as topping to sweet potatoes or other veg.
As history tells us, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for harvest. Bringing what food is in season as the seasons turn from harvest to winter is a natural part of the Thanksgiving table. Just as in the United States, regional differences across provinces and communities may appear at table. Poutine is one of those; you could see fricot, a slow cooked stew well known in French Canadian communities. You could find fresh fish on the table along coasts and rivers, and beef in ranching country. In Newfoundland you might see a version of Jigg’s dinner, in which the star is boiled salt beef rather than turkey. Just as at other times of year and in other parts of the world, every festive meal reflects the choices and tastes of those preparing and eating it.
That boiled salt beef, though not eaten widely across Canada at Thanksgiving these days, was in fact part of what’s often regarded as the earliest European Thanksgiving in Canada. Returning from a voyage seeking a northwest passage to the Orient, English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew stopped in Newfoundland in 1578 to give thanks for a safe return from ‘many dangerous places’ and had a feast to celebrate, using what they had on hand, which included salt beef.
First Nations peoples across Canada had been having their own thanksgiving for harvest celebrations for many years before Europeans arrived. There’s also record of Mi’kmaq families joining with European settlers in a series of harvest meals thought to have been the idea of explorer Samuel de Champlain, in November of 1606 at Port Royal in Nova Scotia.
Back to the Thanksgiving table in Canada, though: what will you enjoy for dessert?
Pears are in season; so are apples. Pies and crumbles and tarts made with these autumn fruits are popular, perhaps with cranberries sprinkled in. You might also find regional choices, such as butter tarts in Ontario, nanaimo bars in British Columbia, and all things maple in Quebec. The star of the Thanksgiving dessert table in Canada, though, is often pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin pie in the United States has quite a few variations. So too does the dish when it crosses the border. You will find that in general, pumpkin pie in Canada tends toward the spice side of things, with ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon prominent.
Though you’re unlikely to be planning a big shopping excursion, at Thanksgiving in Canada you could watch football. The Canadian Football League by tradition stages a double header on the day. There are not many big parades such as are seen in the US, but some communities have their own celebrations. The holiday may be a good time for a quiet walk in nature, too.
While it’s not a Thanksgiving thing of itself, all across Cape Breton around Thanksgiving weekend and for some days on either side, the Celtic Colours International Festival invites the world home to share the beauties of art, craft, stories, meals, music, and community, and the seasonal changes in the landscape. Update: in 2020, Celtic Colours events will all be on line. Details are available at the festival website. You will find links to that in the story linked above.
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