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Why you should celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving instead of Columbus Day

Canadian Mounties in Ottawa.
Canadian Mounties in Ottawa.
Paul McKinnon

Columbus Day, which falls on the second Monday of every October in the United States, is America's most awkward holiday. It's the day we celebrate America's discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. But as many Americans can tell you, Columbus never actually reached North America, and America had been discovered thousands of years earlier by humans who migrated from northeast Asia (and around 1000 AD by Leif Erikson). More to the point, Columbus is increasingly known less as an explorer than as a genocidal maniac who began the centuries-long destruction of the Americas' native populations.

Celebrating genocidal maniacs is never fun, and even less so when it's on the false pretenses of a discovery that they didn't quite make. So here's a better idea: On Monday, celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving instead!

Instead of Columbus Day, our northern neighbors spend the second Monday of every October celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving or, as they call it, Thanksgiving. As I wrote last year (what can I say, it’s my holiday tradition), Canadian Thanksgiving is a way better holiday than Columbus Day in every way.

Here's how the two holidays match up.


Delicious turkey.
Slawomir Fajer

Columbus Day: There is no special food in the mainline American version of Columbus Day, although I guess if you wanted you could recreate the squalid meals on Columbus's ship by eating hardtack bread and brine-preserved sardines.

Canadian Thanksgiving: It's basically the same as American Thanksgiving: a delicious bounty of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, pie, and cake.

Winner: Canadian Thanksgiving.

Traditional activities

A Toronto soup kitchen prepares for Thanksgiving.
Tony Bock/Toronto Star via Getty

Columbus Day: If you're Italian American, celebrating Italian-American heritage (which, to be fair, is an excellent and worthwhile activity), maybe with a street festival or parade. Otherwise, quietly reflecting on or trying to ignore the holiday's dark legacy. Or maybe nothing.

Canadian Thanksgiving: Football, family, parades, and overeating.

Winner: Canadian Thanksgiving.

Degree to which the holiday celebrates genocide

Columbus Day: Very high. Columbus killed large numbers of the people he encountered, enslaved many, and for a time ruled them as a tyrannical dictator. He was a bad person.

Canadian Thanksgiving: Only moderate! The holiday officially commemorates the 1578 voyage of English explorer Martin Frobisher, whose ship barely survived the journey to what is today Canada. The crew gave thanks for surviving the trip, which became Thanksgiving; not in itself too offensive. Still, Frobisher's arrival, like Columbus's, presaged mass-scale theft from and destruction of native communities.

Winner: Canadian Thanksgiving.


Canadian Royal Mounted Police in Ottawa await a visit from members of the British royal family, whose monarchy Canadians still formally recognize for some reason.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Columbus Day: Low. Though Canada shares just as much of Columbus's legacy as does the United State, it is one of the only countries in the Western hemisphere that does not mark the holiday at all.

Canadian Thanksgiving: High. While the two versions of Thanksgiving are so similar that it's virtually impossible to find substantial differences, there is an extremely high number of Canadian-authored articles and videos that patiently and apologetically explain Canadian Thanksgiving to Americans. While you're not require to apologize during Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations, it is considered traditional.

Winner: Columbus Day.

Final score: Canadian Thanksgiving beats Columbus Day on three out of four metrics. So on October 13 this year, roast a turkey in the oven, turn on some football, invite over your closest friends and family, try to ignore the bloody and still largely unaddressed history of North American colonization, and have a very happy Canadian Thanksgiving!