While Christmas is a cherished holiday around the world, it seems that every group celebrates it differently. Continents, countries, and even communities craft their own customs, creating what could be conceived as a completely new Christmas in every home. Though the origin of the holiday remains generally the same — the birth of Jesus — every individual pays homage to this event in his or her unique way.
Canadian families from coast to coast have their own Christmas traditions quite unlike many you might find in the states. If you will be visiting Niagara Falls this winter season, revel in the holidays and celebrate Christmas like a true Canadian by learning and practicing these traditions.
In the far northeast provinces of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, every year around Christmastime townsfolk dress up in elaborate costumes to pay a visit to strangers’ doorsteps — much like American Halloween. However, instead of the customary “trick or treat” followed by candy, the visitors knock and ask “Are there any mummers in the night? Any mummers ‘lowed in?” which is their way of asking permission to enter the house.
After singing Christmas carols and sharing holiday treats with the resident family, the mummers continue on to the next house, usually joined by one or two of their previous hosts. Mummering is as common among adults as children and works to spread holiday cheer and goodwill.
Alongside regular Christmas and holiday parties, many Canadians plan a Taffy Pull. This modern incarnation is devoted primarily to creating sweet and flavorful treats to give to friends and family. Traditionally, a Taffy Pull was held to honor St. Catherine, the patron saint of single women, in order to connect single women and single men for the holiday season.
Celebrated by the Inuit in conjunction with their Christmas traditions, the festival of Sinck Tuck is more closely related to Europe’s pagan Saturnalia. The Inuit revel in the winter solstice by exchanging gifts with loved ones and feasting merrily on cultural foods, such as caribou, seal, and raw fish.
Most American families have parties on Christmas Eve, but French Canadians take the day before Christmas much more seriously. Christmas Eve is the time for the biggest feast of the season. The meal includes several courses and usually lasts well into the night — some families even continue to revel after dawn. In customary French fashion, the meal begins quite late at night, after Christmas Eve mass, and requires a large quantity of fine wine and spirits. The main dish can vary, but many Quebec families cook the traditional ragoût aux pattes de cochons.
Evolved from traditional Ukrainian celebrations, some Canadians use the holiday season to cleanse their spirits and bodies for the upcoming New Year. A period of fasting ends on Christmas Eve with a substantial feast of 12 dishes, representing both the 12 lunar cycles of the year and the 12 apostles of Christ. However, the feast does not include meat or dairy because they are less clean than foods from the fields, gardens, and orchards.