10 Things to Know Before Your First Thanksgiving in Canada

Thanksgiving Day can be confusing for new Canadians and visitors to Canada. Most countries have no holiday quite like it. You may just feel like skipping the whole thing. But it’s an important holiday in Canada, and if you take part in the celebrations, you’ll feel much more at home here.

Your first Canadian Thanksgiving will be happier if you know a few things:

  1. It’s the second Monday in October. So it’s on a different date every year. For the first few years I lived in Canada, I didn’t realize Thanksgiving was coming up until I saw ads for turkeys. Check your calendar and be ready.
  2. It’s a stat (legal) holiday. Schools and most businesses will be closed. Some stores, especially drugstores and supermarkets, stay open. But the supermarkets will probably not have any more turkeys. (See #5.)
  3. It’s not just for church members. Though Thanksgiving was started to give thanks to God, it was started by the government, not by any religion. Non-Christians and people with no religion also celebrate Thanksgiving.
  4. The traditional meal is roast turkey. The turkey is usually filled with stuffing made of bread and spices. (You can get instant stuffing.) Sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie are also traditional parts of the meal.
  5. If you’re in charge of buying the turkey, you need to do it at least a week before Thanksgiving Day. It can be very hard to find a turkey, or even pieces of turkey, in the stores a few days before Thanksgiving. Also, frozen turkey can take several days to defrost.
  6. Canadian Thanksgiving is different from U.S. Thanksgiving. It’s earlier, of course, but that’s not all. Thanksgiving in the U.S. was first celebrated by a group of settlers called the Pilgrims. They were a religious group who wore special clothes. Americans see many pictures of them around their Thanksgiving. The first Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated by Martin Frobisher, an explorer, and his crew. We don’t see many pictures of them.
  7. No one expects a card or a gift. You may see Thanksgiving cards in the stores, but sending them is not a custom, as it is at Christmas.
  8. Thanksgiving is important to children. If you have children in school, they’ll hear a lot about Thanksgiving. They will make Thanksgiving art projects and hear about other families’ celebrations. They will probably be happy to help you get ready for the holiday.
  9. Canadians expect to spend Thanksgiving Day with their families. People may visit relatives out of town. Anyone who works on Thanksgiving must be paid extra money. If you’re staying with a Canadian family, they’ll probably want you to eat dinner with them, at least.
  10. The most important thing: It’s a day to enjoy. Try not to feel pressured. Thanksgiving is not about having a perfect day. It’s about being thankful for the good things in your life. And there are lots of good things about life in Canada.