Christmas Traditions in Canada
As a born and raised Canadian, this is the hardest question I have ever been asked. The idea of “What are some Christmas Traditions in Canada?” took a lot of soul searching, internet research and good-ol’fashion ask mom and dad. What part of my holiday routine was Canadian, Boudreau (my maiden name), Catholic and French? Where did one category start and another begin?
How Canadians do Christmas
There are various parts to a national Christmas tradition. Something that the whole nation can come together and look forward to, regardless of denomination or personal belief. While Germans have Saint Nicholas on December 6, Christmas Markets and gluwein, we have a more modern traditions (is that a thing?) that bring us together as a Nation.
The commercialized, North American version of Saint Nicholas, known here as Santa Claus, has been around for centuries. The modern version that we North Americans have come to know and love is actually a creation of the Coca-Cola Industry. Before 1931, he was depicted as the larger of the elves in the North Pole. After this, Haddon Sundblom created a character based on the works of Clement C Moore’s “Twas the night before Christmas” to be featured in their advertisements. Slowly over the years, this character has taken over our idea of what Santa Claus looks like, and has made his way into every Christmas carol, TV special and artistic depiction ever since.
NORAD – North American Aerospace Defense Command – which monitors the air space above Canada and America, ‘monitors’ Santa’s movements on Christmas Eve and display it live on the internet for all the children to see. They have called it the “Santa Tracker” – how clever.
Also see; Celebrating an International Christmas
In malls and Christmas parties across the country, various Santa’s pose for photos and hand out a small gift to the children in attendance. These are usually allowed to be opened right away. There is never a fee or reservation required for these visits, only for the professional photo. The tradition comes in displaying your child’s first Santa photo – they never end well, so watching poor Santa try to smile gracefully while your little one bawls for his mommy is both heartbreaking and hilarious, in an evil-twisted sort of way.
Together as a Nation
Because Canada is such a large country, inhabited by a large variety of cultures and ethnicities, it is hard to pin point the true nature of ‘Canadian tradition’. What I am presenting is what I know to be true through first-hand experience or anecdotal evidence from trusted friends within the specific culture mentioned. I will not attempt to research every cultures traditions within Canada; we could be here for days.
East Coast – it is traditional in Nova Scotia to donate the largest Christmas tree to Boston every December in gratitude for their help in the Halifax Explosion. On December 1917, two vessels collided in the Halifax harbour, igniting the fuel and ammunitions in one of the vessels cargo holds. The result of which led to 2,000 deaths and another 9,000 wounded. Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee provided assistance immediately after the disaster. We have been sending trees to their city centre ever since.
Toronto Santa Claus parade – starting in 1913, the Santa Claus Parade has a record 25 floats and 2000 participants annually. This year, it was held on November 20, 2016. I have been twice in my life; once when we lived in Ottawa and made the long trip down when I was young, and the second time when I went to university in Toronto and took my husband – then boyfriend – for a weekend in the city. We met my mom just before the parade; we are both such kids at heart that I couldn’t help but invite her.
Also see; Tips for Christmas Markets
December 25 is Christmas morning. Some open their presents on Christmas Eve, some open one and save the rest for Christmas day, and some do everything in between. Most Canadians celebrating Christmas would label themselves as Catholic or Protestant. There are a handful of Eastern Orthodox communities, of course, and they celebrate the birth of Jesus on January 7.
In my house, we start off waking at 6 in the morning to open our stockings and playing with the one present that we received from Santa – always unwrapped and only labeled with our name. 7 am we were allowed to wake my parents, they had coffee, we opened the rest of our gifts and then dad would make pancakes and bacon for breakfast before we were thrown outside to play in the snow, with our neighbor friends. We received toys/wants for Christmas and clothes/needs for our birthdays. I was fortunate/unfortunate enough to have a birthday 2 weeks before Christmas, so I received a lot in December and nothing the rest of the year.
In Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, it is customary to consume lobster or shell fish instead of the traditional turkey or ham. This is due to the fisheries being an essential part of the East Coast Economy and, in the past, their diet.
Many workplaces, mommy groups or friends would organize Cookie baking parties or a cookie exchange. I have been to one. Basically, the Prosecco comes out fairly early in the day, we snack on bread and cheese platters until we are ready to head out. The cookies/treats are then spread out on the table and we each grab our share of everything, as well as a copy of the recipes. At the end of it all, I came home with 10 new cookies and recipes. Generally, one coordinates with the organizer so no one is bringing the same thing.
Also see; Winter travel tips
French Canadians name their celebration ‘le Reveillon’; it is a huge party that lasts well into the next morning. We attend midnight mass and ask that Pere Noel – Father Christmas – Santa Claus – to bring gifts to the good little boys and girls. Traditionally, we eat “Ragout aux pattes de cochons” and “tortiere”. Once I convinced my mom to share the recipe with me, I will be sharing it with you – it’s amazing!
Having brought the tradition over from Germany, we in Canada decorate a pine or fur tree. Most wait until a week or so before Christmas to purchase and decorate. Others, like my family, just can’t help ourselves and pride ourselves on waiting until December 1 to bring the “fake” tree (faux pine, plastic) out of the basement and decorate it with years of handmade, ornate, original Christmas market ornaments. We wait until after December 8th, my birthday, to put up our tree; after too many years of having Christmas themed birthday parties at my house, I imposed this rule.
Also brought from Germany are the traditions of Stockings, Christmas cards, and Caroling. I don’t go caroling but I also can’t hold a tune but we definitely have stockings and Christmas cards. The stockings are hung over the fire place by hangers, or creatively displayed if one doesn’t own a fireplace or mantle. They are filled with various small gifts, each family is different. Mainly, we place socks, underwear, tooth brush, deodorant, that kind of stuff, as well as small Christmas chocolates like Hershey kisses, and other knick-knacks to keep the ‘needs’ from being boring. And yes, most of the chocolate is consumed before the parents wake at 7 am. I’ve heard of some families using a stocking for gift cards and other small gifts, but this is a budget blog after all, I don’t have that kind of money and my kids are far too young for that.
Also see; Snow loving Canadian in Germany
Having been born and raised in French Canada, I had no way of knowing that the way my family celebrates Christmas is any different than the way other Catholics celebrate around the world. Naive, I know, but that’s life in a small town. After moving to Germany and learning about the different ‘gift-bringers’ around the world through my son’s school assignments, I have a new found appreciation for my own traditions, but am completely open to incorporating German, Dutch and British customs into our home while we are here. When in Rome, right?!