Thanksgiving is arguably the most American holiday, even eclipsing the showier 4th of July patriotism-palooza. That’s in no small part due to the fact that the holiday has come to be synonymous with gluttony, which seems synonymous with the country itself (just saying).
However, it’s not the only Thanksgiving around. In fact, it doesn’t even come first on the calendar. That honor goes to Canadian Thanksgiving, on the second Monday in October (October 14 this year).
What Is Canadian Thanksgiving?
It’s actually similar in many ways to American Thanksgiving (obligatory: “but with better healthcare”)—it’s a celebration centered around a meal with family and friends and it’s morphed from a harvest festival into a general day of gratitude.
Canadian Thanksgiving was officially instated as a holiday in 1879, while American Thanksgiving was first proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Still, some argue that the Canadian Thanksgiving tradition started much earlier, with British explorer Sir Martin Frobisher celebrating a safe journey through the perilous Northwest Passage in 1578; others claim that doesn’t count.
Of course, indigenous people in Canada celebrated harvest season (just like they did in North America) well before that.
While Canadian Thanksgiving shares several similarities with America’s own turkey day, it’s significantly more low-key. According to various sources, including Bustle and Inside Vancouver, Canadians don’t typically travel long distances to spend the holiday with family, or take time off from work for the occasion—whereas in America it’s basically the dry run for Christmas.
What About the Food?
That’s what you’re really here for, right? Well, the food enjoyed for Canadian Thanksgiving is…usually pretty much exactly what you see on a typical American Thanksgiving table, from the turkey to the pumpkin pie.
Individual people and families put their own stamp on the menu and may incorporate elements from international cuisines in the way that many Americans also do (some will nix the turkey too), but there’s even a Canadian Butterball hotline.
If you’re a non-Canadian who finds that a let-down, there is one easy way to put a distinctly northern spin on most courses, and you can probably guess what it is—but if you need a hint, picture the Canadian flag.
Canadian Thanksgiving Recipes
As noted, the food is pretty much the same for both holidays, but that’s boring and disappointing, so we put together a Canadian Thanksgiving menu that incorporates a lot of maple syrup. (It tastes great in almost anything anyway, especially during fall.)
We worked in a couple other Canadian ingredients as well—and if you’ve never tried Canadian butter tarts, they’re an amazing alternative to pie.
Kick things off with a drink, and start the maple train chugging along. We created this with a combo of maple liqueur, apple brandy, lemon juice, and sparkling apple cider, but you can swap in straight maple syrup plus whiskey or rye for the liqueur if you like (a blend of about half and half the total amount, so one ounce syrup and one ounce booze, plus the brandy and other ingredients). Get our Log Cabin Maple Cocktail recipe.
Sortilege Maple Rye Liqueur, $19.99+ on Drizly
Made from a blend of Canadian whiskey and maple syrup.
Unless you’re an oyster stuffing devotee, seafood may not seem like an obvious choice for Thanksgiving (American or Canadian), but these make for a great starter. Seek out Prince Edward Island oysters like Malpeque or Colville Bay for the occasion, and slurp the icy, briny bivalves straight-up, or try our Oysters with Prosecco Mignonette recipe.
Roast turkey is the traditional centerpiece of Canadian Thanksgiving tables too. You have your pick of styles, seasonings, and cooking methods, but this one gives you an opportunity to swap in maple syrup for the brown sugar in the brine. That brine also ensures a truly juicy turkey, but if you don’t need a whole bird, apply the method to a turkey breast. Get our Easy Brined Roasted Turkey recipe.
Not just home to outstanding oysters, Prince Edward Island is also the foremost potato producer in Canada, but these buttery, creamy mashed potatoes taste fab no matter where your spuds come from. If you believe sides can never be too rich, we suggest taking inspiration from one of Canada’s greatest gifts to the world: poutine—melt some cheese into your mash before you pour on the gravy. Get our Classic Mashed Potatoes recipe.
Sweet potatoes show up in Canadian Thanksgiving spreads as often as they do in the U.S., but skip the mini marshmallows. This layered sweet potato casserole includes orange zest, cinnamon, crunchy walnuts, brown sugar, and (yes) maple syrup. Get our Sweet Potatoes Anna recipe. (If you don’t want to make two potato dishes and are torn between these two, try our Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes recipe for a happy medium.)
Stuffing is a must for Canadian Thanksgiving too, and this one is a classic example of the form with comforting fall flavors of apple and fresh sage. No maple this time, but you could add some if you wanted. Get our Basic Apple and Sage Stuffing recipe.
Sweet maple is a perfect flavor to meld with slightly bitter Brussels sprouts, and even better if you also incorporate salty cured ham. The original recipe calls for jamón ibérico, but in honor of the holiday, use crisped peameal bacon instead (if you can find it) for a Canadian quirk. Get the Brussels Sprouts with Maple Butter and Ham recipe.
Pork Back Bacon, $14/pound at Porter Road
This is quite similar to peameal bacon, except it's smoked and is lacking the cornmeal crust.
The tartness of fresh cranberries is tempered with brown sugar, maple syrup, and candied orange zest—but gets a kick from red pepper flakes—in this relish. It works wonderfully as a condiment on the Thanksgiving plate and is also great with Canadian cheddar and crackers when you somehow get hungry again a few hours after the feast. Get our Maple Cranberry Relish recipe.
Yes, this sweet autumn stalwart shows up on northern Thanksgiving tables too. And yes, you should obviously work maple syrup into the filling. Get the Maple Pumpkin Pie recipe. (If you prefer your pie a la mode versus under a mountain of whipped cream, pair it with our maple ice cream for even more of a good thing.)
Does pumpkin feel played out? Then there’s no better occasion to make this gloriously salty-sweet stunner from Sister Pie. The bakery is based in Detroit, but you can definitely call this an homage to Canada (because you’ll want to take any excuse you can to eat it). Get the Salted Maple Pie recipe.
For an authentically Canadian True North treat, you can also try butter tarts, little bites of gooey, caramelly perfection in a crisp pastry shell. They could put your usual pecan pie in peril come November. Get the Canadian Butter Tarts recipe.