Thanksgiving. The major Fall holiday in North America. Instantly, you may picture a feast of food, pilgrims in black hats, and, in recent years, a start to the Christmas shopping mania. Nope. Sorry, that’s our neighbours to south: that’s American Thanksgiving. I’m here to talk about Canadian Thanksgiving. To be honest, I barely even know what a pilgrim is.

Canadian Thanksgiving, firstly, happens over a month earlier, in October. It is held the second Monday in October each year, so the exact date changes. This Thanksgiving will be held on October 10, 2011. Why the date difference between America and Canada? Well, Thanksgiving has very pagan roots. The founders of Canada were settlers who lived off of the land. The fall is the time for harvest. The farms are ripe with food and everything must be picked before the first frost comes and ruins the crops. This time of year would be celebrated with a huge feast of all the freshly picked food. Thus, the holiday is timed around the harvest itself, and being north of America, Canada has shorter summer seasons and experiences its harvest earlier in the year.

Also, while Americans can identify the official beginning of their holiday, the Canadian version is muddled. Many First Nations tribes celebrated harvest feasts, there were ties to the British Harvest Festivals, and feasts of thanks were held after wars or recovery from illness.

Nowadays, when food is always plentiful in local grocery stores and shipped from around the globe, the harvest is barely considered during the celebration. The modern versions of the Canadian and American holiday probably look quite similar. Food is still central. Celebrating Thanksgiving is about having a family feast. As a child, we would often travel several hours to join my aunt’s family on this day. Now, I travel hours to my dad’s house. It is always a welcome challenge to see just how many chairs can be brought in and squished around the kitchen table.

On the day of the feast- often the Saturday or Sunday, to allow for travelling family members- we start early. In the morning, vegetables are chopped, the turkey is stuffed and put in the oven to slowly roast all day. Later, as family starts to pour in through our back door, the kitchen is always busy. We mash the potatoes and prep the gravy. Someone must carve the turkey. It’s a messy chore that no-one in my family seems to enjoy. And, constantly, people sneak in to steal bits of food from the pots and pans. It’s a wonder we are even hungry by the time we all sit down. We sit elbow-to-elbow at a table brimming with my parents and step-brothers and significant others and cousins and highchairs. This year we’ll celebrate with one of my life-long friends as she introduces her boyfriend to both of our fathers.

In the name of the holiday, it is tradition to go around the table and say one thing that we are thankful for that year. Top choices are always things like: friends, family, new jobs, health, vacations. Overall, the holiday as I know it is not the national celebration of America. They have parades, the lead up to Black Friday, and football events. Canadian Thanksgiving, to me, is a much quieter, private, family gathering. We eat, we love, we reflect.

This year, I’m thankful for independence and solitude of living alone. (And, maybe, a little thankful that the hockey season is starting again after such an amazing season last year)

What are you thankful for?

About the author

Kelly is a BC girl through and through, but never lasts at home very long before her feet start itching. She has travelled repeatedly to Australia, Europe, and Mexico (and the US, but that doesn't really count). The goal is every continent, but in every place she goes, there is only more to see. She currently fills the days working too many hours with children, writing, and learning Spanish. Though, friends will always find her in a kitchen filled with new recipes from the countries she has visited.