Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


My Year Abroad Thanksgiving Experience

Sophia, final Year UCL Geography student, reminisces about her Thanksgiving experience in Canada whilst studying her year abroad at the University of Toronto last year.

One year ago, life was very different. I was living in Canada, spending my year abroad at the University of Toronto. I may have been wrapped up in about 10 layers, but I was experiencing my first Canadian ‘fall’. Fall in Canada is a different experience from September to November time in England. It is much colder but multicoloured leaves fill the street, people are drinking hot chocolate from Tim Hortons on cosy nights and there are festivities around every corner.

So, first, we celebrated Halloween. It was really nice to celebrate the occasion in a country which really went allout for it. Every shop was covered in Halloween décor and there was a real build-up to the day. Around Halloween time, the University of Toronto arranged a trip to Downey’s Farm, but it wasn’t just a regular farm. The farm was full of food, drinks, farm animals and even amusement rides. My friends and I bought freshly made pastries, real Canadian maple syrup and picked up a pumpkin to carve (which is a lot harder to do than you’d think!).

On the day of Halloween, students and staff dressed up in costume to classes and shops were giving out free sweets for everyone. I had the chance to visit Canada’s Wonderland on Halloween, a theme park just outside of central Toronto. The attractions were horror night themed and actors were jumping out to scare you from every direction. It was terrifying but a really fun experience! I definitely recommend spending a day in Wonderland if you’re ever visiting Toronto.

In England after Halloween, we usually start the build-up to Christmas. But in Canada, it was time to start thinking about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is basically like the Canadian version of the Harvest festival. Thanksgiving centres around celebrating the harvest and blessings of the past year. The city is covered in decorations of pumpkins, corn, wheat and other harvests reaped from the year. There is a huge emphasis on food, and restaurants famously have huge Thanksgiving dinners on the menu.

For Canadians, the day of Thanksgiving is a celebration and appreciation for friends and family.  I was kindly invited to spend the day of Thanksgiving with my Canadian friend and her family in Hamilton (a city a few hours’ drive outside of Toronto). And the festivities did not disappoint!

We first went on a two-hour scenic hike early in the morning to see the fall foliage of Hamilton. Although a bit tiring, it was pretty worth it for the food; the highlight of Thanksgiving. Famously on Thanksgiving, everyone eats turkey. Alongside the turkey, we had lots of sides including mash, stuffing, sweetcorn, Brussel sprouts and all the works. For dessert, we had a classic pumpkin pie. I also got to try a Nanaimo bar; a famous Canadian nut, custard and coconut pudding. And yes, it was amazing. The meal kind of felt like part one of a Christmas dinner, and I was not complaining!

After dinner, stuffed to the brim, we played board games then ended our night with a small campfire in a nearby park. Oh, so very Canadian. I learnt how to toast s’mores (with a lot of help from my friend!) and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the traditions with her family. If you want a real Thanksgiving experience, head to Canada!

Although times are very different now (given that we are in a national lockdown as I type), I still think about Thanksgiving approaching. I wish I was in Canada, but I still have a lot to be thankful for here in England too. I am thankful for my friends, family and most importantly right now, my health