Last updated: February 2nd, 2020
Despite Christmas taking place in many warm countries around the world, it’s often marketed everywhere as a white Christmas, full of snow, Christmas lights, and various decorations. Growing up in Canada, this is how Christmas actually is. However, I found it interesting that my family-in-law living in Mexico had never seen or experienced a white Christmas and yet, all the movies and commercials they watched advertised it this way. Then, when they spent winter in Canada one year, they finally got to see a white Christmas, with lots of snow, lights, and winter activities. They even cried when a snowflake landed in their hands.
Canada is a special place to experience Christmas. In fact, we wrote about the many places you can experience Christmas in Canada, but now we’d like to talk about what Christmas is like for most Canadians.
Canadian Christmas Traditions
Although Christmas traditions will differ among the various ethnicities that call Canada home, many celebrate the same way you’ve seen in movies. We put up Christmas lights around the house, decorate a tree, have family over for dinner, and open Christmas presents on the morning of December 25th. Kids believe in “Santa Claus” and he visits the night of the 24th to drop off gifts. There are lots of sweets, including cookies, candy canes, and hot chocolate.
However, even the “traditional Christmas” is not celebrated the same by everyone. Some open gifts on Christmas eve. Others open one gift on Christmas eve and open the rest on Christmas day. We’re such a diverse country that people celebrate the holidays in a variety of different ways. Many of the traditions and celebrations you may see will have come from French, English, Irish, Scottish, Norwegian, Ukrainian, and German influence.
Many people also hang Christmas stockings, which usually become home to smaller gifts and trinkets on Christmas morning. These are overly large socks that you’ll likely see hung above a fireplace in the movies. Not everyone has a fireplace though. It’s also popular to listen to Christmas music and lounge around in pajamas on Christmas morning, although most people dress up for Christmas dinner later that night.
Even with similar ethnicities, some provinces and territories have their own unique traditions. Newfoundland, for example, is one of the most unique. They have a tradition called mummering, which is fairly common in small towns and villages where lots of people know each other. Basically, people dress up in costumes and go around knocking on people’s doors to sing and dance and share Christmas cake and hot drinks. They do this from house to house, going all around the neighborhood. Sometimes, part of it is having people guess who you are. This is where the “small towns” make it more fun. This tends to happen from December 26th all the way to January 6th, but sometimes it occurs earlier. However, we’ve heard that the tradition is slowly being lost with the new generation. There’s also a similar tradition in Nova Scotia called Belsnickeling, where people dress up in funny Santa costumes and go door to door until people guess who they are. Again, this is more common in small towns and not in major cities.
Fun Canadian Christmas Facts:
- In Nova Scotia, there’s a tradition of sending a huge fir tree to Boston, Massachusetts, to be displayed in the city. This was started way back in 1917 during the infamous Halifax Explosion. Boston gave a lot of assistance during that disaster and because of that, they send the tree down each Christmas as a way of saying thanks.
- The Santa Claus Parade in Toronto is one of the oldest and largest Christmas parades in the world. Started in 1905, it is now home to 25 animated floats and more than 2000 people taking part in the event.
- In some parts of Northern Canada, they have an event called the Taffy Pull. This is held in honour of the Catholic Saint Catherine, the patron saint of students and unmarried women. This party provides an opportunity for single women to mean single men and is basically a Christmas version of speed dating.
For the most part, the popular thing to do around Christmas is to gather with family. For some, that might mean sitting down to watch Christmas movies like Elf and Home Alone, whereas others sit down to play board games. Others might get more active and go skating, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing or tobogganing. I know some people who like to go skiing on Christmas Day because no one is there! In general, though, people spend time with family one way or another.
The day after Christmas is called Boxing day. This is a huge shopping day in Canada because many things go on sale. It’s kind of like Black Friday. I find it strange that it’s a day after Christmas, considering everyone just received many gifts, but it is what it is. I believe the day came from the past when shops would be “boxing” all the Christmas stuff to put away in storage. So, to get rid of it, they’d mark it down. Now it’s just become a big sales day. If you decide to visit a mall on December 26th, it will be very, very, very busy.
Christmas Decorations Canada
In Canada, many people decorate their houses with a variety of Christmas decorations, both inside and outside. You’ll also find them in shopping malls and in outdoor public areas. My mom is a huge Christmas lover and she has hundreds of Christmas ornaments all around the house, including snow globes, Christmas lights, and a variety of miniature ornaments that light up and play Christmas songs. Many people also hang Christmas wreaths on the main door.
Christmas Trees Canada
In Canada, most people have a Christmas tree inside their house. These days, I think most people buy a fake plastic tree, which lasts 20 years or more, but some buy real trees, which are only used for the one holiday season. I’ve never had a real Christmas tree, but they smell very good and leave a huge mess around the house thanks to all the pine needles that fall off. Some plastic Christmas trees even come pre-installed with Christmas lights, eliminating the task of placing lights around the tree. You’ll also find decorated Christmas trees all over Canada, including in malls and outdoor public areas around housing communities or major landmarks such as city hall.
Christmas Lights Canada
One of the things you’ll be sure to notice if visiting Canada around Christmas and throughout the winter is all the Christmas lights on display. Whether you’re driving around the cities or around small communities, you’ll see lots of Christmas lights shining bright at night. Some are just white and some are a variety of colours, such as blue, green, and red. Many people line them around the roof of their houses, while some decorate the trees in their front yards. Most cities will have Christmas lights on popular walking streets as well as in popular public areas, such as skating rinks. It’s a beautiful sight to see, especially in places like Banff, Alberta.
Christmas Ornaments Canada
Everyone with a Christmas tree will have Christmas ornaments all over the tree. Some people choose to make it a fancy modern tree with only 2-3 types of ornaments that are typically silver. white, or dark blue. Other people, like my mom, like to decorate with all sorts of different Christmas ornaments, ranging from candy cane horses to little angels. I actually like it this way. Whereas the fancier style of trees may look more “luxurious” and modern (similar to what you’ll see in malls and shopping centers), having various ornaments is more fun. Some of the ornaments we use have meaning behind them as well. For example, one of the ornaments I have is called “baby’s first Christmas” and is dated with 1984. It’s a little teddy bear sitting in a child seat. This was my first ornament from my first Christmas. I hang it in the Christmas tree each and every year. We also have an ornament of a Santa Claus playing hockey, ornaments with pictures of our family, and an ornament that resembles our dog. Often times, people will also put a big star or an angel on top of the tree.
Christmas Cards Canada
Although Christmas cards are likely fading out with the new generation, my parents and most people in the older generations, do hand out Christmas cards every year. It’s especially useful for sending to family and friends that don’t live nearby, but they also hand them out to the family at the same time we hand out presents. These often just represent that you’re thinking about them and wish them a lovely Christmas with family, good health, and a great year ahead. Sometimes they might feature religious symbols but mostly, they show Christmas scenes, Santa Claus, elves, and reindeer.
Canadian Christmas Food
Christmas food, like all food in Canada, varies across the country and across various ethnicities. However, the standard Christmas meal is very similar to a Canadian Thanksgiving and typically consists of roast turkey, gravy, stuffing, vegetables, cranberry sauce, and a variety of desserts. Christmas is also a very popular time for sweets, including cookies, gingerbread people, date squares, candy canes, and a variety of chocolates. It’s a time of year where quite a bit of people gain weight or at least claim to have gained weight.
However, as you probably know, Canada is a very multicultural country, which means Christmas food will likely differ amongst the various ethnicities, provinces, and territories. For example, Canada has the third-largest Ukrainian community in the world and they typically have 12 traditional Ukrainian dishes for Christmas, one of which is perogies.
Some popular dishes and sweets include:
- Butter Tarts: This distinctly Canadian sweet is very decadent and consists of a filling of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg, baked in a pastry shell until the filling is semi-solid with a crunchy top.
- Tourtière: This French Canadian dish is a classic meat pie made with pork and potato along with a double-crust pastry that is made with lard instead of butter.
- Yule Log: This popular sweet is well-known in Québec and in Europe. It’s a sweet sponge cake that looks like a log.
- Mashed Potatoes: Mashed potatoes are a typical dish and especially good if made with Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes.
- Brussel Sprouts: Quite possibly the healthiest thing you’ll find around the holidays are Brussel sprouts, which are grown plenty throughout Canada.
- Mulled Beverages and Apple Cider: The cold, winter months are a great time for hot drinks and some of the most popular ones around the holidays are Apple Cider and mulled alcoholic beverages that are infused with citrus, spice, and/or tea.
- Cranberries: Maybe it’s because they’re red or because cranberry sauce is always served alongside the turkey but cranberries always remind me of Christmas. They’re tart and tangy and are grown in both B.C. and on the East coast.
- Shortbread Cookies: Originally from the United Kingdom, shortbread cookies are a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth treat that is very popular around Christmas.
- Turkey: Just like Thanksgiving, turkey is a popular dish for Christmas dinner.
- Eggnog: This festive drink can only be found at Christmas and can even be bought by the container at grocery stores. In fact, coffee shops like Starbucks even serve it as a latte. It’s a thick, yellowish beverage that is prepared with eggs and nutmeg that is often drunk on its own but sometimes with rum as well.
- Trifle: Another sweet that’s originally from England is the trifle cake, which is made up of seasonal fruits, whip cream, sponge cake, and custard.
What’s Your Christmas Like?
Did we give you a good idea of what Christmas is like in Canada? If not, ask us a question in the comments and we’ll make sure to expand the article. What is your Christmas like? Do you celebrate it?
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