Although Canada is now a multicultural country and very much influenced culturally by its American neighbour to the south, its cultural origins, besides the native First Nations and Inuit peoples, were British and French. Therefore, most of Canada’s Christmas traditions are a mix of all of these traditions.
Canada is a country made up of mainly immigrants who adopt mainstream traditions but also like to hold on to their own Christmas traditions from their country of origin. Being a democratic pluralistic country, Canadians are free to celebrate (or not celebrate) Christmas however they wish. Here are a few popular Canadian Christmas traditions.
These brightly coloured cardboard tubes were brought over to Canada by British settlers and are placed at each place-setting at the Christmas meal table .When both ends of the tube are pulled, there is a popping sound and the exploded cracker reveals small toys, tissue paper hats and usually a joke or word of wisdom inside.
Singing songs in a group going door to door is a tradition that has its roots in Europe. European immigrants brought this tradition to Canada. In Newfoundland, this took the form of mummering. J.B. Dukes described this practice in 1842 as: “men dressed in all kinds of fantastic disguises…armed with a bladder full of pebbles…paraded the streets…performing rude dances, and soliciting money and grog”. (taken from Mandryk 2005). The “bladder full of pebbles” is connected to a traditional Inuit winter Bladder Festival; the Inuit peoples populated Northern Canada and Labrador which is in close proximity to Newfoundland.
Ukranian settlers in the Prairie provinces brought a similar custom of carolling/mummering to Canada called Kolijada that was a little less rowdy but still involved men dressing up in costumes, singing and dancing to folksongs that often involved the participation of a goat (which represented fertility and the cycle of nature).
The first Canadian Christmas Carol was written in 1600 by Jesuit missionary Jean de Brebeuf who lived with the Huron tribe in Quebec. The now famous “Huron Carol” was originally written in the Huron’s native language as a way to explain the birth of Jesus using Huron symbols and characters. It is now included in both the Canadian Anglican and United churches’ hymnals and is translated into both English and French.
The First Christmas Stamp
This novelty was introduced by Canadians in 1898 as a postage stamp manufactured solely for the Christmas season. However, Christmas Stamps weren’t issued regularly until 1964. Since then many other countries such as Austria, Brazil and the United States have been influenced by the Canadian innovation to issue their own Christmas stamps.
This holiday is observed in other Commonwealth countries but it is unique to Canada in North America. Traditionally, it was a time in Britain where the wealthy gave boxes of food, money and gifts to the less fortunate. Today in Canada, it is mainly observed by the popular “Boxing Day Sales” by many stores and has become one of the most popular shopping days in the country.
The Commercialization of Christmas
It would be easy to blame the commercialization of Christmas on Canada’s neighbour to the south, but Canadians eagerly welcomed the advent of Santa Claus culture that came to North America in the late 1800’s. Eaton’s department store held one of the first Santa Claus parades in 1925 at a cost of $100,000. Eaton’s and Simpson Sears also began “Christmas Wish Books”. The mail-order magazines that featured all kinds of toys and gifts were eagerly coveted by Canadian children who, after all, were used to the tradition of gift-giving by their European ancestors.
Being a large country populated by immigrants that have come from around the world, Canadian Christmas traditions can vary from region to region. The traditions explained above, however, offer a general overview of some of the traditions that are unique to Canadians.