Canadian Customs and Traditions

 Canadian Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October, and is a statutory holiday in all jurisdictions except New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island

As a liturgical festival, Thanksgiving corresponds to the English and continental European Harvest festival, with churches decorated with cornucopias, pumpkins, corn, wheat sheaves, and other harvest bounty, English and European harvest hymns sung on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend and scriptural lections drawn from the biblical stories relating to the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot.

While the actual Thanksgiving holiday is on a Monday, Canadians might eat their Thanksgiving meal on any day of the three day weekend. Thanksgiving is often celebrated with family, it is also often a time for weekend getaways for couples to observe the autumn leaves, spend one last weekend at the cottage, or participate in various outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and hunting.

History of Thanksgiving in Canada

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey.

This feast is considered by many to be the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America, although celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops had been a long-standing tradition throughout North America by various First Nations and Native American groups.

First Nations and Native Americans throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America. Frobisher was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him — Frobisher Bay.

At the same time, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed 'The Order of Good Cheer' and gladly shared their food with their First Nations neighbours.

After the Seven Years' War ended in 1763 handing over New France to the British, the citizens of Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving days were observed beginning in 1799 but did not occur every year. After the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal to Great Britain moved from the United States and came to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada. The first Thanksgiving Day after Canadian Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness.

Starting in 1879 Thanksgiving Day was observed every year but the date was proclaimed annually and changed year to year. The theme of the Thanksgiving holiday also changed year to year to reflect an important event to be thankful for. In the early years it was for an abundant harvest and occasionally for a special anniversary.

After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11 occurred. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays, and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day.

On January 31, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed:

“A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed … to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.”

The farmers in Europe would hold celebrations at harvest to give thanks for their good fortune and the abundance of food. The farm workers filled a curved goat's horn with fruit and grain. This symbol was called a cornucopia or "horn of plenty". When the European farmers came to Canada they brought this tradition with them.

In the early 1600s, Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, arrived with French settlers and also held feasts of thanksgiving called the "Order of Good Cheer." This feast they shared with their Indian neighbours as a token of goodwill. During the Revolutionary War, the Americans who were Loyalists (loyal to England and the Crown) moved to Canada and thus American Thanksgiving celebrations and traditions spread throughout Canada.

Thanksgiving Day in Canada after Confederation was observed on April 15, 1872, to celebrate the recovery of The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness. In 1879, Parliament declared November 6th a national holiday of Thanksgiving. Over the years many dates were used for Thanksgiving, the most popular was the 3rd Monday in October.

After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11th occurred. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day. Finally, on January 31st, 1957, Parliament declared the second Monday in October of each year to be "A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed".

Most families in Canada celebrate Thanksgiving with a special dinner for family and friends. The dinner usually includes a roasted turkey and pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to look at pioneer life, and it is an ideal time to celebrate the importance of Canadian farmers for all Canadians and at the heart of the celebration is the idea of giving thanks for the goodness of the season past.

Traditional Thanksgiving dinner: 

The centerpiece of contemporary Thanksgiving dinner is a large meal, generally centered around a large roasted turkey and the following:

 Pickles, green olives, celery, roast turkey, oyster stew, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, dressing, creamed asparagus tips, snowflake potatoes, baked carrots, hot rolls, fruit salad, mince meat pie, fruit cake, candies, grapes, apples, French drip coffee.

A very similar dinner is often served on Christmas and New Year's Day.


Halloween traditions derive from many countries and have been adjusted by different cultures over time. Some favorite Halloween traditions include children who go trick-or-treating. Young children dress-up in costumes as ghosts, witches and other imaginative things and go door-to-door saying "Trick or Treat", which means either you give me a treat or I play a trick on you. Adults hand out a treat to the children and treats are usually little pieces of candy.

Halloween celebrations in Canada began with the arrival of Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 1800s. The Irish have a story about the origin of Jack O’Lanterns who was a man who could not enter heaven because he was a miser, and he was unable to enter hell because he had played practical jokes on the devil. Therefore, he was left to saunter the earth until Judgment Day. Jack walked around with a lantern in his hand, which was a hot coal placed in a hollowed-out turnip, which today is symbolized in form of a pumpkin.

The use of witches, ghosts, and cats in Halloween celebrations originates with the Druids. Halloween is thought to have originated among the ancient Celtic Druids. The Druids were an order of priests in ancient Britain who believed that spirits, fairies, witches, and ghosts came out on Halloween to harm people.

The name "Halloween" means "hallowed evening" since it takes place before All Saints' Day. The Druids believed that on that evening, October 31 - the day preceding the Christian feat of All Saints Day, the wall between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thinner. Therefore the use of ghosts in Halloween celebrations originates with the Druids.

In modern times, Halloween has become a holiday, which focuses on haunted things like skeletons, cemeteries, warlocks and so on. There are many superstitions and symbols connected with the festival of Halloween, celebrated on October 31. The Druids also took part in an autumn festival called "Samhain" or "summers end". The tradition of decorating with pumpkins, leaves, and cornstalks originates with the Druid festival. It was a celebration of the food, which had been grown during the summer.

In Sweden, Halloween is known as "Alla Helgons Dag" (All Saints' Day) and is celebrated from October 31 until November 6. As with many other holidays, "Alla Helgons Dag" has an eve, which is either celebrated or becomes a shortened working day. The Friday prior to All Saint's Day is a short day for universities while school-age children are given a day of vacation.