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Canadian Thanksgiving is Today (But Most Americans Probably Wouldn’t Know It)

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Today, the second Monday in October, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving.

(And less than seven weeks until we feast here in the U.S. Are you sweating yet getting ready?)


The most "traditional" Canadian Thanksgiving foods are similar to those served here on the last Thursday in November: a roast turkey at the center of the table, stuffing, gravy, various fall vegetables (and these similarities are partially attributed to the movement of British loyalists, and their traditions, to Canada after the American revolution).

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Is this turkey American or Canadian? We may never know.
Is this turkey American or Canadian? We may never know. Photo by Bobbi Lin

But the holiday's origins differ: Some say it commemorates the 1578 reunion of English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew with his fleet of ships, from which he was separated during a summer storm; French settlers arriving with Samuel de Champlain also held feasts of thanks in 1604; others say the harvest festival was borrowed from the American colonies during the 1750s; and Thanksgiving Day was first celebrated as a civic holiday in 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a serious illness. In 1879, it was declared a national holiday, and in 1957 it was established as the second Monday in November.

Despite the holiday's long history—and its similiarities with the U.S. Thanksgiving—it's still largely unknown in the U.S. As Pete Wells reported in the New York Times, editors at Taste of Home (the American food magazine with the largest circulation), Cooking Light, and Bon Appétit confirmed never covering the holiday. And Ruth Reichl, who edited Gourmet for 10 years, told Wells it was "bad enough having to do Thanksgiving over and over every year": "We never touched a second Thanksgiving!"

And perhaps our general ignorance is a reason that American "reports" on the holiday are often contradictory. Wells wrote, "Dessert will be pie. Everybody’s favorite is pumpkin." But Bridget Shirvell on MarthaStewart.com said, "Pie isn't as much of a must on Canadian Thanksgiving menus" but doughnuts are more likely to make an appearance. (All three Canadian commenters denied ever having a doughnut on Thanksgiving. Food52 readers: We're counting on you to weigh in here!)

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(And Americans, if all this talk about Thanksgiving has you in hives, never fear—you can start cooking now.)

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13 Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes To Save Your Sanity

So what may be more interesting than the purported accounts of what is eaten on Canadian Thanksgiving is how commenters have responded with insight into how their own families celebrate.

Rowbat in Vancouver wrote on Wells' article that "Thanksgiving in Canada is basically a harvest festival (much more appropriate in early October than a few weeks before Christmas), being thankful for the crops that are 'in the barn' or 'in the cellar.' No national mythology, flags, or marching bands—just an acknowledgement of the seasons and simple gratitude for a kitchen full of food for the winter."

And commenter MGVY reiterated that in "Canada, the principal family day is Christmas. Thanksgiving is a fairly low-key event and does not have the commercial significance that it does in the U.S., where it is the trigger for the Christmas shopping season."

And L Martin in Nanaimo, British Columbia offered a more whimsical explanation:

Our parliament sensibly spread out Octoberfest, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas and New Years to reasonably distribute gastric upset and calories through the fall and early winter. As well, widening the Thanksgiving/Christmas gap on the calendar, takes considerable psychological pressure off the designated turkeys. And please note that yes, it is true, our turkey stuffing is a combo of doughnuts and poutine.

We're not sure we believe L Martin's teasing, but we can all agree that fall offers many reasons to be grateful, whether on the second Monday in October or the last Thursday in November (and, preferably, on both).

If you're looking for a way to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, Food52's Controller Victoria Maynard, who grew up in Toronto and emphasized how low-key the holiday was in her own family, said that they always had butter tarts.

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Grandma Joan's Butter Tarts

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Makes 30-35 tarts

For the Crust

  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, COLD (NOT room temperature), cut into pieces
  • 2/3 cup shortening, COLD (NOT room temperature)
  • 2/3 cup ice water
  • 3 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

For the Butter Tarts

  • 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raisins or currants
  • sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Okay, Canadians: Tell us! How important is Canadian Thanksgiving to you? And how did you celebrate this year?


Did someone say "Thanksgiving"? Our menu genie is here to help.