Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas in Canada

How do our Canadian neighbors celebrate Christmas?  I come to find that the majority of Christmas traditions in Canada are similar to the traditions of the rest of the world.  However, there are some interesting traditions which have their roots in the customs of the French, Irish, Scottish, English, Germans, and its native peoples.

  • One of Canada's annual Christmas traditions is to select and donate a fir tree to Boston, USA, as a token of appreciation for the help given by the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee immediately after the 1917 Halifax Explosion.  This annual gift continues as a goodwill gesture by the Nova Scotia Government.  This tree then becomes Boston's official Christmas tree and is lit on Boston Common throughout the holiday season.  Because of its symbolic importance to both cities, the tree has to meet specific guidelines to be selected.  The tree must be an attractive balsam fir, white spruce or red spruce, 40 to 50 feet tall, healthy with good color, density, symmetry, and be easy to access.
  • A very unique tradition in the small towns and villages of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia is Mummering.  This involves people disguising themselves by dressing up and knocking on some one's door and saying in a disguised voice, 'Any mummers 'loud in?" -- this means "are mummers allowed into the house?"  Tradition has it that if the answer is yes, the mummers entertain the people in the household by singing and dancing and are rewarded with Christmas cake and a Christmas drink.  If the host does not invite the mummers in, then the tradition demands that he or she join them as they continue on their rounds.
  • Ice Sculpture
  • Labrador City (near the Quebec border) has its own tradition called the "Christmas Light-Up Contest."  The exteriors of houses are decorated with lights, and the tradition also involves having big ice sculptures in front gardens.  This custom is popular, because 12 feet of snow or ice is normal at Christmas time and the tradition allows creative skills to be brought out in the selection and quality of the figure chosen to be sculpted. 
  • Another tradition in Labrador is to save turnips from the previous summer's crops, hollow out the center, insert a light and give to children to carry around.
  • Families of French descent enjoy a huge feast after Mass on Christmas Eve, called a reveillon (derived from the word 'reveil' meaning 'waking,' because participation involves staying awake until midnight and beyond.)  This feast usually lasts well into the early hours of Christmas morning.  A plentiful supply of lobster from the shores of southern Nova Scotia has given birth to a Christmas tradition there, where many people eat lobster for their Christmas dinner instead of the more traditional foods, such as turkey or ham.  
  • Barley Candy
  • Canadians eat sweets called Barley Candy and Chicken Bones.  Barley candy is on a stick and is shaped like Santa, reindeer, snowmen, a tree, or other symbol of Christmas.  Chicken Bones is a cinnamon candy that melts in your mouth, with a creamy milk chocolate center.
  • A Christmas tradition in Eskimo areas is to hold a winter festival called Sinck Tuck.  The festival revolves around gift-giving and dancing.
  • British Columbia is unique in that its individual Christmas traditions include the Christmas turkey being joined by salmon.
  • Quebec has a tradition called La Fete du Roi.  This takes place on the 6th of January -- a Christmas cake is baked with a bean inside it, and the one who gets the bean becomes the king or queen for the day.