Canada is such a multicultural country that holiday traditions from all over the world are celebrated here. The traditional Canadian Christmas, however, draws from French, British and American traditions. Families start putting up Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving and Halloween. You will see multicolored twinkling lights lining the exterior of houses as well as snowmen and reindeer on porches. Inside, you may catch a glimpse of a Christmas tree and other festive symbols like stars and mistletoe. The main Christmas meal is often roast turkey with vegetables and ‘all the trimmings like mashed potatoes and vegetables. Traditional favorite Christmas desserts include Christmas/plum puddings and mincemeat tarts. Christmas crackers are popular with many people in Canada as well. A rich fruit Christmas Cake is also normally eaten around Christmas time!
The Santa Claus Parade in Toronto is one of the oldest and largest Santa parades in the world! It started in 1913 when Santa was pulled through the streets of Toronto. Children along the route followed Santa and marched along with him. It’s been taking place for over 100 years and now is a huge event with over 25 animated floats and 2000 people taking part! It’s broadcast on TV around the world.
Mummering is a tradition that mainly takes place in the province of Newfoundland, more commonly in small towns and villages rather than large towns and cities. It’s also sometimes called ‘Jannying’. People dress up in costumes and knock on someone’s door and say in a disguised voice, “Are there any Mummers in the night?” or “Any mummers ‘loud in?'”, meaning ‘are mummers allowed in the house?’ Then they sing and dance and have Christmas cake and a cup of something nice before moving on to the next house. In some places, if the host does not guess who the Mummers are, the host must join the Mummers in their merry-making. Going Mummering is a fun Christmas season activity for adults. Mummers usually come out between December 26th and January 6th (The 12 Days of Christmas). However, some come out only before Christmas Day.
Lesser-known Canadian Christmas traditions
- Mummering or Janneying (Newfoundland and Labrador) – This is the practice of visiting several homes while in disguise. Groups of friends and family will dress up, wear masks and go to a neighbor’s house where they will be poked and prodded and asked questions. Mummers usually mask the sound of their voices to make it harder for hosts to guess who they are. When a mummer’s identity is found out, the host offers them food and drink. Today, this custom has been banned in some areas of the province (probably because of the security risk that the activity poses) but there are still some regions that practice it. St. John’s holds the Mummers Festival and Mummers Parade annually.
- Belsnickeling (Nova Scotia) – Similar to the Newfoundland tradition, adult revelers went Belsnickeling by dressing up (some in Santa costumes), visiting their neighbors, having a few drinks, and challenging their friends to guess their identities (they usually wear something over their heads). This fun activity with German roots is now a dying tradition. Only a few Nova Scotians know about it.
- Taffy Pull (Northern Canada) – This is a French Canadian tradition dating back to the 19th century. On November 25th, St. Catherine’s day (patron saint of students and unmarried women), households make taffy and share it with everyone. The taffy party also serves as an opportunity for single women to meet and mingle with single men during the holidays. While the tradition of making taffy has been kept alive by many French Canadian communities, the taffy pull as a “speed dating” event has all but faded.
- Réveillon and La Fête du Roi (Quebec) – Réveillon or midnight meal is a huge feast that lasts until the early hours of Christmas morning. The traditional meal used to consist of a stew made from pigs’ feet (Ragoût aux pattes de cochons). Nowadays, families feast on Tortiere, a meat pie, among other holiday goodies. Christmas season officially culminates on January 6, La Fête du Roi. On this day, French Canadians share a cake with a bean hidden somewhere inside. The person who gets the slice with the bean is hailed as king or queen for a day.
- Chicken Bones (New Brunswick) – Chicken Bones is a spicy cinnamon candy filled with bittersweet chocolate. The bright pink and shiny candy is considered a holiday treat that has been a tradition since 1885. Why? Nobody seems to know. What is known is that Chicken Bones continue to be a Christmas staple in the East Coast.
Experience Christmas in Canada by signing up for a Working Holiday Visa.