Christmas celebrations have peaked for most of us. Right now, many people are getting ready for New Year’s Eve, which always seemed to me like a bit of an outlier from Christmas itself. Aside from the common threads of faith, family, friends, and gaining weight, there are variations among how Canadians and Americans celebrate Christmas.
My background is English, so a lot of what happens in my family is borrowed from that heritage. Our Christmas Day dinner dessert is always a traditional raisin, currant and shredded carrot pudding from a recipe that originally belonged to a Loyalist great-grandmother. There are two kinds of sauces, both good, neither healthy. The “hard sauce” is basically just icing sugar and butter mixed together. The “soft sauce” is warm and made of brown sugar and butter.
My family has Christmas dinner with my brother-in-law’s family and their heritage is Amish and Mennonite. That’s led to two varieties of stuffing—traditional savory “English” stuffing and the cinnamon flavored “Amish” stuffing. A popular Christmas drink for Dutch Canadians at Christmas is advocaat. It’s a custard-like egg, sugar, and brandy mixture. Think of it as eggnog but only better, especially if homemade.
In Quebec and other French-Canadian communities, there are unique Christmas foods. The most notable is tourtiere, a meat pie with ground pork and/or wild game filling. Quebec supermarkets and specialty shops are full of special sales and displays for tourtiere in the weeks before Christmas.
When it comes to the non-edible Christmas celebrations, those are diverse among Canadians, too. Many French Canadians still follow the tradition of reveillon or “awakening.” The faithful go to mass at midnight. After, gifts are opened and Christmas dinner is enjoyed. It goes all night and by the afternoon of Christmas Day, a lot of people are probably tired. Many English Canadian families, including my own, still have table “crackers” complete with a paper crown hat, joke printed on a slip of paper, and a small toy that usually breaks instantly.
There’s still a deep attachment to German heritage in some communities. At Trinity Lutheran Church near Listowel, Ontario, the first verse of Silent Night is always performed in German by the youth in front of the giant Christmas tree by candlelight.
Queen Elizabeth II is still Canada’s Head of State. We don’t hear from her too much, except on Christmas Day. Her annual Christmas Message is broadcast on radio television, and online across Canada each year. The Queen’s 2016 message included praises for emergency responders, Olympic athletes, and always culminates with a strong message rooted in the Christian foundation of Christmas.
Boxing Day, December 26, is a holiday in Canada. Its origins go back to the 1830s in England when servants, postmen, and errand boys would receive a Christmas box of food and gifts. Now it’s usually a day for another round of family Christmas gatherings, returning unwanted gifts to stores, or simply going to shop for more stuff. I usually do a bit of both every year. There’s another family dinner on Boxing Day, but I usually head to day two of the Boxing Day sale at Hudson’s Bay department store the next day.
Many of Canada’s Christmas traditions are like those in the USA, but we have a view variations that set us apart.