The turkey stuffing is made with green chilies and curry spices. Hold the bacon. Dessert isn't pumpkin pie, but kulfi, homemade Indian ice cream. The extended family gathers around a tablecloth rolled out on the living room floor, with a Bollywood movie playing in the background.
Welcome to the new Canadian Thanksgiving in which an influx of newcomers from abroad is spicing up an old and much-loved holiday. Some still think of it as a Christian tradition and take a pass altogether, while others embrace it as a time to reflect on their new lives in a new land.
While Thanksgiving may have had its roots in the Protestant church, today the holiday is secular, and has been democratized to fit the needs of Canada and its increasingly cosmopolitan face. In the past 14 years, 3.1 million new immigrants have come to Canada, bringing ancient customs and traditions from places as diverse as Colombia, Iran, China and the Philippines.
"We'll have 35 people over. My aunt will cook two 15-pound turkeys with stuffing made of curry spices and paprika, and make potato and onion balls and basmati rice," said Munir Khota, whose parents immigrated here from India. "We don't exactly say it's a Thanksgiving dinner, but families do take advantage of the holiday to get together and have rice and turkey and stuffing."
A Muslim, Mr. Khota works at Medina Wholesale Poultry in Toronto, where the phone has been ringing off the hook for orders of halal turkeys, hand slaughtered according to Muslim law. "Demand is really up for halal turkeys. We expect to sell about 500 of these birds," he said.
It's the same at Shaistas Halal Meat, in Surrey, B.C., where Firoza Ismail says a growing number of Muslim customers are asking for wholesale halal turkeys, $2.59 a pound. "It's a holiday, so everyone likes to get together. We have a large Muslim community here, a lot of East Indians," said Ms. Ismail, who is from Fiji.
Loly and Francisco Rico, who came to Toronto 14 years ago as refugees from El Salvador with their three children, have also tailored their annual Thanksgiving festivities to their own culture. They serve guacamole and flan. And Mr. Rico bastes the turkey in his grandmother's chompipe pollo (turkey-chicken) sauce of hot peppers, sesame seeds, onions and garlic.
"I believe it is one of the more important occasions, even more than Christmas, to say thank you to God for the food on your plate, and also for bringing you to a safe place," said Ms. Rico, co-founder with her husband of FCJ Hamilton House Refugee Project. She hopes all the guests they have invited - a Rwandan, an Eritrean, a Burundian, a Costa Rican and a Pakistani - will join them and learn the origins of the holiday.
In Canada, Thanksgiving was first celebrated in 1859 by Ontario's Protestant church leaders as an autumnal feast, according to Peter Stevens, a York University PhD candidate who just published a scholarly paper on the holiday.
They appropriated the holiday from the United States, where Pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth established the tradition of a harvest festival in 1621 to say thanks to the natives and give thanks for a bountiful harvest.
"In Canada it began as a day of nationalism by Protestant clergy who defined Canada as British and Protestant," Mr. Stevens said. "But this narrow definition soon broadened."
By the 1870s, U.S. holiday traditions - family gatherings, turkey dinners and stories of pilgrims - had come to Canada, creating commercial opportunities and giving Roman Catholics, union workers and ethnic minorities a way to celebrate the day as a non-religious event.
Today, the holiday, while arguably not as popular as U.S. Thanksgiving, has been adapted by Canadians to fit their own traditions.
In Quebec, where Thanksgiving is known as l'Action de grâce, the holiday is a low-key affair that's more of an opportunity to enjoy a long weekend than engage in the rituals of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. It seems the province's large Haitian community has absorbed that general sentiment. "I may have some turkey, but cranberry sauce? I'll take a pass," said long-time Haitian community activist Eric Faustin. "Those who are settled here for a while have absorbed the holiday - just like Halloween - but it has no cultural resonance for the Haitian community."
While south of the border, Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November, in Canada, politicians couldn't seem to settle on the ideal date. Ottawa originally set aside Nov. 6 for annual Thanksgiving observances in 1879. Over the years, it changed a number of times, sometimes falling on Remembrance Day (Nov. 11) and sometimes as late as Dec. 6. Finally in 1957, the date was shifted to the second Monday in October, in part to accommodate Canada's earlier harvest.
Mohamed Tabit, a Somali community activist in Toronto, noted that Thanksgiving was mentioned at Friday prayers at his mosque. "It's something that unites humanity," he said.
This weekend, he'll slaughter a goat and distribute the meat among needy families. "We'll also prepare fish, rice pilaf, naan bread and if people can afford it, they might buy a pumpkin pie," he said.
At Nargis Tapal's house, a feast of mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, squash and all the trimmings will be laid out on the table. The only thing missing ingredient? "I find turkey so bland and hard to flip in the oven," confesses Ms. Tapal, a Torontonian of Pakistani origin. "And so I do chicken marinated in yogurt with Indian spices. It is a meaningful celebration."
With a report from Ingrid Peritz