Canadian Holidays – Chapter One

Happy Thanksgiving Day, Canada.

Long before our upcoming move to Malaysia was ever born, we lived in Western Canada, making one of us an expat. Being an American in Canada was often more confusing than I’d imagined, at least for the first full year.


Traffic in K-Country, located 45 minutes from Western Calgary.

Familiarizing myself with the strange traditions of Canada took top priority as my first Columbus Day rolled around and they gave me the day off for something called “Holiday Monday”. Unlike parades and historical references, they served a turkey dinner. Huh? Moving to Calgary in 2001 presented a whole new world of strange customs, funny words and family gatherings at bizarre times. Lesson One: Canadians refer to three days off from work as “Long Weekend”, regardless of what holiday falls on Monday.

Unclear why Canada chose to celebrate the most American holiday on the calendar I set out on a discovery mission. Traditionally celebrated in November where I come from, I learned that Thanksgiving celebrates the “Fall Harvest” as opposed to a corny story about British settlers making good with the Indians. (Oops: In Canada, the politically correct term is “Natives”, similar to the USA but without the “Americans” added the end.) Below are some pictures of our beautiful 2,000 square foot house which is obviously too big for a childless couple. Notice the snowfall despite the October date.

MetricRoadEndsMeterWeather plays an enormous role in everything Canadian and Thanksgiving is no exception. Alberta weather follows a strange alternating month scenario that starts with the first cold snap. Minnesota thinks they know cold. Um, no. Experiencing Minus Thirty Two Degree Celsius six weeks before the “first day of winter” humbled me. Understanding Americans know little about the metric system even though only three countries on earth use the Imperial System, let me explain.

Converting temperature requires some mathematical prowess. First off, get used to numbers expressed as “Plus this” or “Minus That”, understanding that the former is good and the latter sucks. Starting at Zero Degrees Celsius makes a good starting point since it equals 32 Fahrenheit, the freezing point of water. For every five degrees Celsius, add nine degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps the easiest way to understand the Global News TV weather is simply remember the following information:

“Zero” means it’s 32;   Not Cold in Canada
Plus Five: It’s 41;   almost shorts weather
Plus Ten: It’s 50;   get out and have a bar-b-q
Plus Fifteen: It’s 59:  perfect camping weather
Plus Twenty: It’s 68;  a beautiful day: Call in sick
Plus Twenty Five: It’s 77:  a spectacular summer day for The Calgary Stampede
Plus Thirty: It’s 86:    This is the most important number on the Plus side; It’s the benchmark for HOT to a Canadian
Hotter than Plus Thirty:  Retreat to Nunavut to cool off !!

Here are some wonderful reasons to enjoy the “plus” side:

The other nine months dominate the more important conversions so pay attention please:

Minus Five: It’s 24;  not cold but perhaps put on light fleece
Minus Ten: It’s 14;  a typical Green Bay Packers game in December; go out and enjoy
Minus Fifteen: It’s 6:  getting a bit chilly; perhaps throw on a sweatshirt under the fleece
Minus Twenty:  It’s two below zero; Shit, do I really have to get up ?

Often, it’s hard to tell what side of the temperature scale you’re in and on really crazy days, you get both. Below is a typical day in June after a hailstorm covers the new grass and flowers that just bloomed. Luckily I didn’t work much in Calgary either (mostly due to limited resources) and always scrambled to cover the tomatoes before the storms hit.

Here’s where it gets confusing: Lower than zero Fahrenheit means throwing the nine degree for every five formula out the window. Oddly, as it gets colder, the ratio between the two systems decreases significantly until reaching Greenland like levels. It goes something like this:

Minus Twenty-Two: a cold snap; go straight to the garage and plug the car in
Minus Twenty-Five: It’s cold but it but rarely snows at because the air is too cold
Minus Twenty-Eight: Time to pit on a toque. If you don’t understand, don’t move to Canada.
Minus Thirty: The MOST important number on the minus side: This is the benchmark for COLD to a Canadian
Minus Thirty-Five:  Quite common in Northern Alberta. Not really much different from -30
Minus Forty or colder:  Go online this instant and book a vacation to Hawaii.

Clearly the most disappointing time for Americans (and all other expats living in Canada), here is what much of the fall, winter, spring and winter-spring (mid-May) looks like:

Thinking weather is the most important strange conversion I’d be using in Canada, I enjoyed my first Canadian Thanksgiving on a Monday with family. The other stupid part is the Monday. In America, only peons at the bottom rung and retail employees are stuck working Black Friday. Everyone else gets to sleep off the gluttony.

The Tuesday after Canadian Thanksgiving simply starts a short work week. Recovering properly from a huge holiday feast of potatoes, stuffing, pie and of course, turkey, isn’t possible. Canadians devised a solution for this. They eat Holiday Dinner on Sunday, one day before the holiday allowing the family some time to watch Columbus Day parades on American TV before the three-hour drive back home. At least that’s the way my in-laws celebrate Holiday Monday.


Obviously, the minus side is the crappy part of being an expat in Canada. However, there are two things to do during the cold long holiday gatherings, at least in Edmonton, anyway. Hop in the car and hit West Edmonton Mall, the world’s largest mall complete with regulation size ice rink, full water park and marine animal exhibits or throw on the jerseys and attend an Edmonton Oilers game, the one and only professional sport that really matters.


Be forewarned !! Once a proud championship team, the current streak of non playoff seasons is eight and the team looks like a pathetic unorganized group of losers led by an even bigger reject. But we love them anyway because that’s all there is in Edmonton.

 Either way, Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, eh?

Got any crazy Canadian weather stories? Please share !!!

Look for Chapter Two;  We’ll have fun discussing the other strange Canadian holidays like Boxing Day, Heritage Day and Memorial day disguised as Victoria Day and delivered one week early.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s