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Why Canadian Thanksgiving falls on a different day than American Thanksgiving

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While Canada and the United States share many holidays – including Christmas and Labour Day – Canadian and American Thanksgivings are held almost two months apart.

Canadian Thanksgiving takes place on the second Monday in October, while American Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November. Canada’s celebration has often been credited to it getting colder the further north you go – and therefore having an earlier harvest.

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However, while both Canadians and Americans enjoy a turkey dinner, football and a day off on the respective Thanksgiving holidays, Canada’s giving-thanks festivities may actually have begun earlier in history.

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Here’s why Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on a different day than its American neighbours.

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How did Canadian Thanksgiving get its date?

The 1621 feast between Native Americans and Pilgrims is a well-known origin story of American Thanksgiving. Canadian Thanksgiving, however, may have begun much sooner.

The holiday can be traced back to the explorer Martin Frobisher’s third voyage to Canada in 1578, according to The Canadian Press. Frobisher was an English explorer who arrived in Newfoundland while searching for the Northwest Passage.

After Frobisher and his crew arrived they ate a meal of salt beef, biscuits and mushy peas to celebrate and give thanks for their safe arrival in Newfoundland, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

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The holiday was not declared a national holiday until 1879. Parliament declared Nov. 6 to be a Thanksgiving holiday, and it remained this way until 1957.

According to Time Magazine, Protestant ministers began petitioning the colonial government for an official day to thank God amid the crisis of faith brought on by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

While the religious motivations for the holiday eventually began to lose meaning, Canadian families looked to American Thanksgiving feasts as inspirations to host their own harvest feast on the holiday.

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In 1908, the holiday was moved to a Monday after railways lobbied to use it as a long weekend for visiting family.

The Canadian Press writes that between 1921 and 1923, Armistice and Thanksgiving were combined to be held on the same date, though this was short-lived and they were eventually separated.

The official date of Thanksgiving varied until 1957, when the government passed a law to ensure that Thanksgiving would always be held on the second Monday of October, without having to re-declare the holiday every year.

How did American Thanksgiving get its date?

The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 when the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared their harvest feast.

However, Thanksgiving celebrations were held sporadically in the United States for over 150 years, according to documents from the Smithsonian museum. While they tended to be autumn harvest celebrations, this wasn’t always the case.

In 1789, Member of the House of Representatives Elias Boudinot moved that a day of giving thanks be held to thank God for the constitution. The motion was approved by a congressional joint committee.

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On Oct. 3, 1789, President George Washington declared that the American people would observe “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” on Nov. 26.

However, the holiday continued to be celebrated on-and-off depending on who was president at that time, and when they declared it. For example, President Thomas Jefferson believed it was a conflict of church and state to require people to observe a day of prayer, and did not declare a holiday at all.

President James Madison proclaimed that Thanksgiving would be held on April 13, 1815, and no other president declared another day of Thanksgiving until Abraham Lincoln did so in 1862.

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In the end, it was likely Sarah Josepha Hale — the editor of Ladies Magazine and Godey’s Lady Book — who began pushing for a Thanksgiving holiday in 1827 by publishing articles in the magazine, along with recipes. She also wrote letters to governors, senators and presidents advocating for the holiday.

She succeeded in 1863, when Lincoln declared Nov. 26 to be a national Thanksgiving holiday observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November.

–With files from the Canadian Press. 

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