It is true that Canadians are more low key than their American cousins; this is why celebrations for Canadian Thanksgiving are more subdued. Thanksgiving in the US is welcomed with much hoopla as it is considered an equally important holiday as Christmas. Try booking a flight to the US during Thanksgiving week – that will give you an idea of how Americans will make time to travel to be with family.
Canadian Thanksgiving: a Bit of History
According to writers, the first influence may have come from Europe. Farmers in Europe would offer a goat stuffed with many good things as their way of saying thanks for a bounty harvest. Another influence would be to celebrate the safe journey of Martin Frobisher – a British explorer who landed in Newfoundland in the 1500s (this has been challenged because some writers say that Martin Frobisher had nothing to do with Canadian Thanksgiving). Since then, other explorers who arrived in Canada continued this Thanksgiving tradition. In the 1600s, pilgrims continued this tradition of giving thanks in the New World and brought some practices to Nova Scotia.
The Canadian Parliament in the 1800s then assigned the 6th day of November as Thanksgiving Day, but that date has changed many times; finally in 1957, Parliament declared the second Monday in October to be officially Thanksgiving Day.
Canadian and American Thanksgiving celebrations differ somewhat. Canadians give thanks for a good harvest while Americans give thanks to the early Pilgrims who settled in the New World.
Canadian Thanksgiving Recipes
There’s this online joke about what turkeys eat for Thanksgiving. The answer is “nothing – they’re already stuffed.”
Like the Americans, we roast a turkey and serve it with mashed potatoes, cranberries, vegetables and pumpkin pie. Perhaps serving dessert with maple syrup would give it that distinct Canadian touch.
Here are two Canadian recipes that you might want to try for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Both recipes are from Canadian Living Magazine (online version).
1 pkg (12 oz/375 g) fresh cranberries
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup (50 mL) maple syrup
Granulated sugar (optional)
- Remove rind from orange; chop rind and place in food processor.
- Working over food processor to catch juice, cut off white pith; cut between membrane and pulp to release fruit into processor.
- Add cranberries, jalapeño pepper, maple syrup and salt. Blend until fairly smooth.
- Let stand for at least 1 hour. Add up to 2 tbsp (25 mL) sugar to taste, if desired.
- (Make-ahead: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 1 week.)
(B)Maple-Glazed Squash with Walnuts
Half butternut squash or 1 acorn squash (about 1 lb/500 g)
2 cups (500 mL) green beans (about 8 oz/250 g)
1 tbsp (15 mL) each vegetable oil and butter
2 tbsp (25 mL) maple syrup
2 tsp (10 mL) soy sauce
1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and pepper
2/3 cup (150 mL) toasted walnuts
- Peel and cut squash into 3- x 1/2- x 1/2-inch (8 x 1 x 1 cm) strips to make about 5 cups (1.25 L); set aside.
- In large saucepan of boiling salted water, blanch green beans until tender-crisp, (3 to 6 minutes).
- Drain and chill under cold water; drain well.
- (Make-ahead: Wrap vegetables separately in towels; enclose in plastic bags and refrigerate for up to 1 day.)
- In large skillet, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add squash; cover and cook, turning twice, until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes.
- Add green beans, maple syrup, soy sauce, salt and pepper; cook, turning gently, until heated through and evenly coated.
- Mix in walnuts. Scrape into warmed serving dish.
(source: Canadian Living)
What Canadian Thanksgiving Means to Me
Over the years, we’ve collected a few answers to the question, “what does Thanksgiving mean to you?” Age and lifestyle are often the two factors that define what Thanksgiving means to some Canadians. For example –
“It’s another vacation day to look forward to. Canada has very few holidays compared to the US, so Canadian Thanksgiving to me means I get to sleep in and not have to go to work!” (Mark, 31 years old, computer programmer)
“I dread Canadian Thanksgiving every year. My husband and I got divorced on that day and there’s this awful sense of dread when October sets in. Naturally I’ve stopped celebrating it now.” (Gilda, 48 years old, housewife)
“Grandpa and grandma always invite us to their house. Grandpa knows how to catch a turkey. He shoots one a few days before Thanksgiving, then we eat it for like 3 days.” (Jason, 6 years old, primary schooler)
“Oh, it means turkey time. The table gets a real nice and fancy tablecloth, the staff are friendlier, and we have entertainment – like a piano player came last year and the year before that, they hired a magician. Then they make us wear these hats and we eat with them hats. Hard to concentrate on your cranberries when these hats keep falling off. I always hope that my son comes and visit, but he’s busy and travels a lot.” (Wilma, senior citizen in a nursing home)
“Actually, we don’t celebrate it at all. We don’t go all out when it comes to food and celebrating like the Americans. I spend Thanksgiving by thinking of something I’m especially grateful for, and that’s it!” (Jen, 25 years old, nurse)
“My parents are active in the community and run a large business. They get invited to social functions, but they make it a point to be with just family on Thanksgiving Day. We have the grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews. My parents arrange for special catering. The whole clan gets to enjoy a lavish dinner. Mom and dad are what you would call “proud Canadians” and they remind us every year that we should be grateful for being Canadians living in Canada.” (Brett, 18 years old, in university in Ontario)
The traditional Canadian Thanksgiving was meant to give thanks for a good harvest, but times have changed and millions of Canadians now live in cities, not in farms. What are some of the things we should be grateful for as Canadians?
- that in spite of two official cultures and languages, we have learned to live in harmony without starting wars and riots;
- that our banks and real estate have remained solid, despite what’s happening across the border;
- that we have plenty of water and plenty of hydro-electric power such that we can sell electricity to some parts of the US;
- that our crime rate is low compared to our countries;
- that our environment is finally getting the attention it deserves;
- that it doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg to get an education (our sister has a kid in university in New York: tuition for the first year – US$52,000 – that does not include room and board, books, and other expenses)
- that we have socialized medicine
- that we have beautiful lakes, parks and rivers – which other nations envy
- that the Trans-Canada highway links all Canadians living in the provinces and territories and has shrunk this big country into a global village
- that we have maple trees, maple syrup and maple candy and that we have great food and drink even if some people in other parts of the world aren’t aware of it;
- that we put a high premium on acts of bravery and heroism, Olympic champions, dance/song/film talent and community service
- that we have freedom of religion, of speech, of association and the right to travel
- that we’ve kept our sense of humor in spite of the atrocious winters we have.