Well Christmas is fast approaching and with it so many different traditions but there are a few that are more common than others that you are likely to see most often if you are new to Canada. It’s a diverse country with diverse ways of celebrating the holiday but there seems to be those favorites that you’re sure to come across. If you a know someone new to Canada and you are helping them learn about some of the Christmas traditions, this is a good overview of what kind of information might be of use, sometime we forget to share the basics because they are so familiar to us. If you are new to Canada or wanting to learn more about Canadian traditions I hope I have included some useful information and tips.
I think my grand-mother would have found something like this helpful when she first arrived but it was a different time back then and despite her enthusiasm to embrace her new country and new traditions she was isolated on the farm. It would be her children that would really take on the Canadian customs but I remember how she enjoyed all the wonderful Christmas’s the family spent together blending old and new; she couldn’t get enough Eggnog or Christmas lights and we couldn’t get enough of her cabbage rolls and perogies at Christmas dinner!
Not everyone celebrates Christmas and the people that do have many different traditions. Christmas is a religious celebration based on the birth of Jesus but is celebrated by those who are Christian and those who are not as well, so anybody who wants to celebrate it is welcome to in their own way which can be as part of a religious or general holiday celebrations. I’ve included a quick summary on some of the more popular “holiday” traditions and hopefully a few helpful tips along the way but note that different regions or cultures within Canada may have different or additional customs.
Poinsettias are a traditional Christmas flower and make a beautiful centerpiece or additions to to your Christmas decor. They come in a variety of colors and you can buy these at grocery stores, florist and stores like Home Depot, Canadian Tire and Walmart.
Baking is often a big part of the Christmas celebrations. If you’d like to try some Christmas cookie recipes Gingerbread Men and Short Bread cookies are a popular choice. If you don’t bake you can buy festive cookies at the grocery stores or community bake sales. Cookies are also a favorite treat of Santa but we’ll get to him a bit further down.
Gingerbread houses area always fun to make for kids and adults alike. There are lots of kits available in the grocery stores before Christmas or make your own! Gather the family around and decorate your gingerbread house together!
Candy canes are peppermint candies typically shaped like a cane. They use to be only red and white but now they come in lots of colors and flavors. Hang them on the tree or put them out for guests. They can be bought at most stores.
Christmas carols are songs that are sung only during the Christmas season and there is a big selection of songs to choose from. Some songs have a Christian content like Away in a Manager and others are just holiday songs without religious references. Jingle Bells is often a favorite for both young and old. Visit Canadian Christmas Playlist featuring holiday songs performed by Canadian artists.
You are likely to see Carolers (a group of people who join together to sing Christmas songs) at local churches, community events or shopping centers. They may be raising money to help those in need at Christmas time and be taking donations of food or money but often they are just out and about sharing the holiday joy.
Christmas sweaters are one of those funny things where people like to have contests to see who can wear the ugliest one but many people just enjoy wearing them to get into the holiday spirit.
Christmas cards are very traditional. You can purchase cards at most stores closer to Christmas and they are great to give out to friends, family and neighbors to remind them you are thinking of them this Christmas season. You can also make your own. It’s a tradition to send them via mail but of course now that tradition like so many has evolved and Christmas greeting are often shared with email or social media – either way, it’s the thought that counts!
Christmas fruit cake is another one of those standard Christmas traditions in Canada but I would venture to say less popular with the passing years. There are two version, a light and a dark. These cakes are packed with fruits and nuts and often basted in or include rum or bourbon in the ingredients. They are sweet and sticky and dense. You can purchase them at any grocery store during the holiday season or make your own. They are often given to co-workers, friends and family as a gifts.
Eggnog is a popular drink at Christmas made with cream, nutmeg and eggs available in grocery stores during the Christmas season. You can find it the same place where the regular milk is or make your own. It’s rich and has a distinctive flavor that for some is an acquired taste. There is no alcohol in this drink when you purchase it so kids can drink it too and adults are free to add liquor if they choose.
Mandarin or Christmas oranges are one of my favorite traditions! In December these delicious, tiny, easy to peel oranges arrive at the grocery stores. These are great to put out on a plate with nuts and chocolates. Live Eat Learn suggests keeping mandarins in a cool, dark place. At room temperature they’ll last about 1 week. Refrigerated in a bag they should last 2 weeks to 1 month. Warning – kids love these so they’ll want more! A fun thing about these oranges is how easy the peel comes of and kids like to make shapes out of them like an elephant – watch this video from FiredanceBecca to see how.
It’s always helpful to know in advance that the kids will be out of school during the holiday season, usually 10 to 14 days. Check with your school in advance so you know when they are closing. Most schools often have a concert where kids put on a play or sing and parents are invited. These concerts can be either in the day during school hours or evenings and are free to attend. Often the schools have limited seating space so they may limit it to 4 people per family allowed to attend but each school will send a notice in advance with the information.
Now lets move onto to what you are likely to see a lot of Santa, presents, and Christmas lights!
Santa Claus is a story about a magical man who lives in the North-pole with his wife and elves. They make toys all year long and then after the kids go to sleep on Christmas Eve he flies around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and is said to come down the chimney and delver a gift to kids who have been good all year, but we all know Santa is a softie and all the kids get a gift good or not (or typically) The secret to Santa is who Santa really is. Can you guess? If not ask someone – far be it from me to put the secret down in words. Lets just say a late night for parents shall we? The gift is typically left unwrapped under the tree. Some parents choose not to incorporate Santa in their celebrations at all but if you’re interested in participating in this tradition its lots of fun!
Visit The story about Santa Claus to learn more.
A favorite tradition for most kids is to leave Santa milk or hot chocolate and cookies before they go to bed so…. Santa can’t forget to eat the cookies before the kids wake up!
Having a Christmas tree is a very popular tradition. You can purchase a real tree or store bought tree. Most people particularly in the urban areas purchase a store bought tree for convenience, they even come with the lights already on them but you’ll have to add some decorations! You can buy a new tree as well. You will see tree sales at Canadian Tire and other outlets in your neighborhood, they are stacked outside the stores when they arrive late November and are typically priced based on the height or type of tree. There are tree farms where you can go and cut down your own tree but you cannot cut down a tree that is on someones property including what appears to just be a forest – it is likely owned by the Crown or someone personally. Learn more about the history of the Christmas Tree here.
You can purchase a tree, lights and decorations at Walmart or Canadian Tire stores. Don’t forget to buy Christmas ornament hooks that go with them! The Dollar stores are a super option for ornaments and Christmas decorations but they typically don’t sell the trees or lights. You can also make your own ornaments!
The tradition of gift giving involved a few things. Firstly deciding who you will be buying gifts for. Some families all buy for each other and some families draw names and only buy one gift for the persons name they drew other families don’t buy gifts at all; each family makes their own rules and traditions. Some people put their wrapped gifts under the tree weeks before Christmas and others not until Christmas Eve. Also, some people like to open their gifts Christmas Eve and others not until Christmas morning.
The Christmas stockings involve making or purchasing a Santa stocking and hanging it up or placing it near the Christmas tree. Santa also fills the stocking with what we call stocking-stuffers. These are typically a combination of less expensive small gifts like candy, little books or toys, Christmas oranges, bubble bath or anything else you would like to fill the sock up with. Each child or family member gets their own stocking and Santa fill them up after the kids are in bed. So now “Santa” has to put a gift under the tree, eat the cookies and put something in the child’s sock. Families who celebrate with Santa traditions will tell you be prepared to stay up late and even more prepared to get up early because the kids will barely be able to sleep from the anticipation and they wake up earlier than they ever do any other day of the year. You can purchase Christmas stockings at most stores that sell Christmas decorations or make your own.
Outdoor Christmas lights are beautiful in the evening. Some people don’t put up any, some people put up a few and others people decorate their whole yard – it’s up to you! You can find these at stores like Walmart or Canadian Tire during the Christmas season. If you are hanging lights outside make sure and wear boots with a grip so you don’t slip on the ladder if you’re putting lights up high. People start putting lights up as early as mid November and usually leave them up until after New Year’s Eve on January 1st. Each local community usually has a special event where you go for a drive past beautiful outdoor displays. Make sure you check that the lights you are putting up outside say Outdoor or Indoor/Outdoor on the package. Here’s a great video from Lowes on how to put up Christmas lights.
The Advent Calendar is always a hit with kids. It’s a way to count down the days until Christmas. Little advent posters can be purchased at stores like Walmart and the Dollar stores. Each day the child opens a little window or door in the scene that matches the date of the month so on Dec. 4 they would open the window or door with that number.
Well I hope I’ve broadened your awareness of popular Canadian holiday traditions! These are just a few of many.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
See DIY Christmas Projects and Inspirations