Differences: Canadian and American


Yesterday, I went to my first Thanksgiving dinner in the US. It was crowded with relatives, groaning with food, noisy with children, animated by football on TV and in the yard, lively with table talk, and pretty darn joyful.

On the table sat a plate (as above). The internal oval itemized some of the things Americans are thankful for: love, family, peace, friends, hope, health, wisdom, comfort, home, happiness, success, bounty, and freedom. A platter piled high, as it were, with thanks.

Canadian thanksgivings are less inclusive. In 1957, Parliament declared Thanksgiving “a day of general thanksgiving to almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” No platter called for here. By and large, Canadians are not thankful for “everything.” They are thankful for harvest, defined literally or somewhat more broadly. Family, health, home and bounty might come into it. Love, peace, friends, hope, wisdom, comfort, happiness, success, and freedom probably not.

I think the plate would be out of place on a Canadian table. I would bet that, in many Canadian homes, it would draw comment, even derisive comment, if not at table, then in the car on the way home. “Did you see that plate? She is really overdoing it.”

So what’s the diff? I think it’s that Americans tempt fate more often. They risk more, as individuals and as collectivities. They generate more “outcomes.” In any given year, there is more “in play.” Happiness is, as they say, pursued. Freedom exercised. There is less grey middle. Less “same old, same old.” Love, peace…and freedom are, in a dynamic world, hard won both in the long term and the day to day. So at the American Thanksgiving, more thanks are called for.

Much of Canada has locked itself into a kind of stasis. Things change under protest. To drag out that old psychological stand by, it’s a matter of the “locus of control.” I think more Americans than Canadians see this vested in the individual and the moment. Canadians are accustomed to having the world act on them. They respond as they must. Thanksgiving day is not a time to celebrate outcomes, so much as survivals. You can hear them thinking at the dinner table, ‘the world missed again.”

This could very well be the turkey talking. Or it may be simple gratitude. But freedom, that’s something to be thankful for.

13 thoughts on “Differences: Canadian and American

  1. billyjoerobidoux@yahoo.com

    As an American who’s lived in both countries, I have a more simple explanation: Americans are just schmaltzier. No chest thumping necessary.

  2. AH

    Well, yes, billyetc., but the stylistic differences reflect value differences, the force of peer disapproval, the “tall poppy” syndrome, individual vs. tribe and such. Sounds like your values and aesthetics are more in tune with the Canadian. So be it.

  3. Grant

    Billy…, could be, could be, but then we would have to ask why schmultz never made it to, or got flattened in, Canada. Thanks, Grant

    AH, beauty!, Thanks, Grant

  4. billyjoerobidoux@yahoo.com

    The biggest difference between Canada and the US is that one was the product of a revolution. Americans are more attracted to abstractions like freedom because the US is a country founded in the name of an idea. The divide is political. As an American, I don’t like to think that what makes us different is greedy capitalism, however much you want to dress it up as risk-taking, and then denigrate Canadians as timid welfare recipients. The celebration of free enterprise can go a little far and obscure the more basic differences.

  5. Scott McArthur

    Part of the problem is that thanksgiving is probably not a Canadian holiday at all. It is an imported holiday, birthed from the efforts of one determined 19th centrury American patriot/journalist and the decree of that president/god, Lincoln.

    A true Canadian holiday of “thanks giving” would have to be in April, when winter releases its grip and we all give thanks for having survived the ordeal. You know that increadible rush you feel when the sun warms your body after so long … Canadians are so atavistic, nature is us.

    Interestingly enough Easter is a BIG deal in my family while thanks giving is so so. I wonder if Easter is a bigger “family” holiday in Canada than it is in America?

  6. Tom Asacker

    Great post Grant. My daughter celebrated both Canadian and American thanksgivings in Montreal during her first year at McGill. I’m forwarding this post to her for her – and her friends – views. Since I grew up about 20 miles from Plymouth Rock, I always believed that Thanksgiving was simply a big feast (the first one amongst the Pilgrims and King Massasoit and his posse of about 100 lasted for three days).

    And as far as real holidays go . . . who knows? After all, it was Pope Julius I in 350 A.D. who formally declared Christ’s birthday to be celbrated on December 25th to make it easy for converts to celebrate.

  7. talia

    Well.. I think you grew up in a weird place in Canada then because thanksgiving is a huge feast in my family

  8. talia

    Well.. I think you grew up in a weird place in Canada then because thanksgiving is a huge feast in my family

  9. Aimie

    I grew up in Canada and moved to the US in 2002. I think there is a big difference in US/CDN thanksgiving….and it has nothing to do with growing up ‘in a weird place’. I lived in 4 different cities in Canada (Calgary, Thunder Bay, Windsor and Toronto) and Thanksgiving wasn’t that big of a deal in any of those places. Sure, family gets together and we have turkey, but I find it way more ‘hardcore’ over here in the US. It’s hard to explain..you just have to experience it.

  10. Michelle

    That article is both ignorant and offensive. First of all, whoever said that thanksgiving was an imported holiday needs to read up on the history of thanksgiving. Canadians were celebrating thanksgiving for 43 years before any pilgrims arrived in North America.
    ” (in america) Happiness is, as they say, pursued. Freedom exercised”??? What, in the name of God, were you thinking? As a proud Canadian living in the United States I have heard Americans make some pretty ignorant comments about the differences between the two countries. This is by far the dumbest thing I have ever heard a fellow Canadian say. I’m practically speachless and you should be ashamed of yourself.
    While I’m at it, let me say one more thing; Just because a hostess bought a platter (probably made in taiwan) with some nice words on it doesn’t mean that the entire country bases their thanksgiving celebration on these ideas. Thanksgiving in America is about the pilgrims and being thankful for the feast. It started after the pilgrims had a miserable first year and then beat the odds the following year by producing a wonderful crop that would allow survival during the winter.
    Anyway… don’t be such an embarassment to our counrty. At least we didn’t turn a celebration of family, friends and good fortune into a national day of shopping.
    I’m disgusted.

  11. jingles

    Michelle writes, “Thanksgiving in America is about the pilgrims and being thankful for the feast. It started after the pilgrims had a miserable first year and then beat the odds the following year by producing a wonderful crop that would allow survival during the winter.”

    Actually, Thanksgiving in America is about the courage of the Pilgrims making their harsh journey to pursue religious freedom, for which our country is based upon. Then the Pilgrims didn’t just “beat the odds”. They were befriended by the Native Americans who worked side by side with them and taught them how to produce things they’d never grown before to survive the harsh New England winters. We did not “turn a celebration of family, friends and good fortune into a national day of shopping,” as you seem to think. In fact, American Thanksgiving is totally a day about being thankful for family, friends and good fortune. Obviously, the family and friends part is even more important in the American version, as it’s our biggest day of travel, even bigger than Christmas. Americans make the huge effort to get home for the 4 day weekend to spend it with family and friends. Do Canadians as a whole travel across the country to be with family on that day? Not only our we thankful for family, friends and good fortune, but we are thankful for our freedom, just as the Pilgrims were. We celebrate brotherhood, sharing, peace and good health, just as the Pilgrims and the Native Americans did. It’s exactly that plate and more. The shopping is the day AFTER Thanksgiving, thank you very much.

  12. tlball40

    I can tell you a different perspective as a Native American. Many of us do not celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in the spirit of thankfulness that the pilgrims survived the first year as it also represents the demise and genocide of our people and stealing of our land, people, and language and cultural ways that are still wreaking devastation generations later. (my own mother and many I know are survivors of the boarding school atrocities!) I celebrate Thanksgiving today, although not on a huge scale, but I simply consider it a day to be thankful which should actually be every day thus the reason it is not a huge deal in my home. My favortite part of Thanksgiving is actually the shopping the day after in ancticipation of the Christian holiday of Christmas which also brings mixed feelings as so many of my ancestors suffered so severely at the hands of the Christian missionaries and missionary schools…..

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