Christmas Day is celebrated across Canada on 25 December, and is one of the most actively celebrated holidays throughout the country.
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The 36 million people living in Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories hail from a great variety of ethnic backgrounds and are quite diverse religiously as well. The result of Canada’s diverse make-up is a corresponding diversity in how Christmas is celebrated. On the other hand, there are also many common traditions, which are often shared with the United States.
Canada-Wide Christmas Traditions
Christmas in Canada is highly commercialised and secularised in many quarters, though there are also many who still remember its religious significance as the “birthday” of Jesus Christ. Canadians often say, with a bit of pride, that their country is the home of Santa Claus, who looms large in Canada as a symbol of Christmas.
Children hang up stockings or socks to await Santa’s goodies every Christmas Eve, and presents can be expected to be left underneath the Christmas tree as well. Adults and families not inclined to recognise the figure of Santa Claus will simply exchange gifts directly among themselves.
Since Christmas Day is a public holiday and paid off-work day in Canada, families find it easy to gather for festive meals and to enjoy each other’s company. Traditionally, lunch is the main meal on Christmas Day. It consists of such main dishes as roast turkey or roast goose, vegetable sides like squash, potatoes, or turnips, and sweet dishes like cranberry sauce an plum pudding.
Mincemeat pies are also popular, and all manner of cuisine from Canada’s “melting pot of cultures” makes its way into the Christmas feast these days. Many also add in a special Christmas breakfast, perhaps of pancakes with maple syrup or of ham and eggs. For dinner, there will either be a second large, festive meal or the family will simply eat the leftovers from lunch. Snacking is also common throughout the day, including on candies, tarts, shortbread, and oranges. Finally, cookie-baking parties where families bake and exchange different cookies are very common.
The more religiously inclined in Canada attend midnight church services on Christmas Eve to welcome in Christmas Morning. It is also not uncommon to see large nativity displays, often with real animals and actors playing Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. Christmas greeting cards with religious messages, along with more secular-themed cards, are also sent in great abundance.
Regional and Local Christmas Traditions
If visiting Canada for Christmas, you may be particularly interested in observing or taking part in some of Canada’s more unique Christmas celebrations. Below, we note some of these for the benefit of the tourist:
- In southern Nova Scotia, many go “belsnickeling” around Christmas time. This means to go door to door dressed up in a comical-looking Santa suit. “Contestants” must continue until their neighbours finally guess their identity. They may also stop over for cake and cookies and sing and play musical instruments while out. A similar tradition exists in Newfoundland, but there it is called “mummering.”
- In Toronto, you can attend one of the world’s oldest and biggest Santa Claus parades. It began back in 1913, and it has giant floats, huge crowds, and a large long-distance audience watching on TV all over the world.
- In Quebec, if you go to a Catholic mass, it will be followed by a large feast called “Reveillon.” It will begin at midnight and last for hours. There will be a chance to taste authentic French foods like “pigs feet stew” and a traditional venison meat pie called “tortiere.”
- If in northern Canada, you can likely find a taffy pull to attend, where young girls hope to meet someone special. You may also be able to attend an Inuit (Eskimo) festival called “Sinck Tuck,” where gift-giving and dancing occur.
- In Newfoundland’s Labrador City, there is a Christmastime “light up contest.” The city sits in deep snow at this time of year, but all the houses will be well lit, and there will be plenty of ice sculptures to admire as well.