Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October, although many people have their Thanksgiving dinner on the Sunday. It’s very similar to American Thanksgiving, a celebration of blessings, although the event that sparked it was different. There are many theories about the first Canadian Thanksgiving, which has a complicated and disputed history. One theory refers to a celebratory meal held by Martin Frobisher when he arrived in Canada in 1578, and the other to a meal hosted by Samuel de Champlain in Port Royal in 1606. The first ‘official’ celebration of Thanksgiving was in 1879, a bit more than a decade after President Lincoln established American Thanksgiving.
Like American Thanksgiving, most Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving with friends, family and a big turkey dinner. Although we live thousands of miles away, my family and I always join them. As many of you already know, I grew up in Canada. I became a British citizen over twenty years ago and as I’ve lived here in the UK half my life now, much of my cultural identity is British. But almost more than any other time except the 1st of July, on the second weekend in October, my name is April, and I’m a Canadian.
Canadian Thanksgiving in the UK
In the United Kingdom, there is no corporate, secular celebration of Thanksgiving. We have “Harvest Festivals” in some villages and schools and “Harvest Sunday” in churches, but there is no holiday with family gatherings.
When I first came to England most Brits didn’t even believe me when I said Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving in October. Even now, when mention it, a lot of Brits looked very surprised. “It’s a bit early, isn’t it?” they asked. Most are only vaguely familiar with the American tradition, and have no idea Canada celebrates at a different time. Many assume Canadians are part of the American celebrations or that we don’t celebrate at all.
I don’t know why the Canadian Thanksgiving is so over-shadowed by the American one. Some people think we ‘copied’ the idea, and this may be true. As I mentioned before, President Lincoln declared a Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 and the first official Canadian celebration was later, in 1879. However both the Martin Frobisher and Samuel de Champlain theories mean the events that led to Canadian Thanksgivings were celebrated before the Thanksgiving celebrations in Plymouth in October 1621. All that said, I often wonder if President Lincoln was thinking more about unity, abundance and gratitude than the pilgrims, as his proclamation was issued at the height of the Civil War. As with so many things, it doesn’t really matter who did it first, or who does it best. The important thing is that we do it..
Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner in England
It is definitely easier to celebrate Thanksgiving now than it was when I first arrived in England. Back then, finding anything even remotely familiar to create a traditional Thanksgiving meal was nigh on impossible. Although they are not widely available, you can now get most of the familiar North American brands if you look hard enough. They can be expensive though. I’m all for homemade everything, but when it comes to cranberry sauce, I still like the stuff in a can, the kind that comes out in a cylinder shape and hits the bowl with a satisfying plop when you shake it out of the can. That I can’t get, but we can get Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce in jars.
It’s very difficult to get anything but frozen turkey here for Canadian Thanksgiving in October so I’ll cook a chicken – the biggest one I can find – or maybe even two of them. I will refer to these chickens as “turkey” and for just this one day my family will indulge my delusion. After all, they will taste fairly similar to a turkey, served with the usual Thanksgiving dishes – mashed and roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing and vegetables. There will be pumpkin pie and perhaps a pumpkin cake as well.
Pumpkin puree is available some places in tins, a good thing as we still don’t seem to have discovered pie pumpkins over here. Scratch pumpkin pies really don’t taste the same when you make them with ordinary pumpkins. You can even get Stove Top Stuffing, although I prefer to make homemade stuffing these days.
The Spirit of Thanksgiving
So, barring the turkey, my Thanksgiving offerings look and taste much like the ones you’ll find on so many Canadian tables on Thanksgiving. Whatever we eat though, it’s always a pleasure to come together with family and friends to celebrate our blessings.
Whenever and wherever you celebrate, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving!