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How did we get Thanksgiving and turkeys?


It’s time to talk turkey. You know it for the yummy food and day off school, but there's more to the story.

Let’s take a look at how we got the day called Thanksgiving.

When was the first Thanksgiving?

Painting “Sir Martin Frobisher” 1577 by Cornelis KetelLet's go back about 440 years. The year was 1578. British explorer Martin Frobisher held a feast of thanksgiving in Newfoundland.

Frobisher had a lot to give thanks for. He and most of his crew had come back from a rough trip through the Arctic. They were looking for the Northwest Passage.

There were storms and cold and they all got lost. Frobisher was sorry he hadn’t found the Passage. But he was very happy to be alive.

This meal likely wasn’t too tasty. It came out of ships’ storage and was mostly salted beef and mushy peas. But it started a tradition of being grateful for what food they had.

Frobisher was the first European settler to celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada. But Indigenous people have a long history of celebrating the fall harvest. They were celebrating long before the arrival of European settlers.

Painting at right: “Sir Martin Frobisher,” 1577 by Cornelis Ketel

How did we get Thanksgiving in October?

An October calendar with Thanksgiving highlighted

Back in the 1600s, Samuel de Champlain followed the custom of First Nations harvest festivals. He held feasts in the colony of New France. French settlers and local Mi’kmaq people came to them.

But the official celebrations of Thanksgiving moved around a lot. It didn't become an annual Canadian holiday until 1879.

Even then it was usually held in the first week of November. After 1920, it was often celebrated at the same time as Remembrance Day.

We didn't settle on a final day until 1957. Parliament made the second Monday in October the official date. That's been the day ever since.

How is Thanksgiving celebrated?

A family sitting around a table at Thanksgiving dinner.

There’s no required way to celebrate Thanksgiving. But it usually involves a big meal with family and friends over the long weekend. It's a fall holiday. So it features food that’s around in the autumn like pumpkins, squash and potatoes. And of course, there's the turkey!

This year, many people have chosen to be vaccinated. Families might have the chance to celebrate together again. Or they might come together to have a virtual family dinner!

In the United States

a turkey

Americans are known for being serious about their Thanksgiving foods. The tradition of having turkey for dinner is one that has crossed the border.

It comes out of the old English custom of eating a big goose for special meals. Since the turkey is native to North America it took the goose’s place.

In the United States, they celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November.

A great time to be thankful

Give thanks

Everyone celebrates Thanksgiving in their own way. And this has been a year of unexpected events. It's a good time to take a moment and think about what you're thankful for.