Posts Tagged ‘Christmas trees’

Canadian Christmas Customs

June 24, 2018

Christmas Lights Across CanadaSettlers from many countries and many cultures contributed to the colorful Christmas customs shared by many Canadians today.  Yet they have all come together to form some traditions that are uniquely Canadian.

Since 1985, at 6:55 P.M. Ottawa-time in every province Christmas lights on every government building in Canada are turned on in a huge show of pomp and circumstance.  Many of the ceremonies are repeated nightly until January 7 and may include caroling, performances by local performers and national celebrities, light shows, fireworks, and Christmas treats.  While each ceremony may be similar in content each province adds its own cultural flare to the festivities.

On Christmas Eve many Canadians attend church services.  Churches of all sizes from the large cathedrals to the small-town churches offer the singing of the carols of Christmas, performances, and teachings on the meaning of Christmas.

Bringing Christmas trees into the house for decorating was introduced to Canada by German immigrants in the late 1700s or mid-1800s.  Now Canada is a major producer of Christmas producing about 6 million trees per year.  Nova Scotia, the Christmas Tree Province, produces over 1.5 million trees each year for sale in eastern Canada and the United States.  The province also ships Christmas trees to Central America, the Caribbean, and Venezuela.  Every year a 70-foot tree is sent to Boston, Massachusetts in appreciation of the help sent to Halifax from Boston in 1917 when a ship with a full cargo of explosives exploded in Halifax Harbour killing 19,00 people and destroying much of the city.

Many French Canadians still attend midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and participate in winter sports on Christmas Day.  Some still save their gift-giving for New Year’s Day, but others give their children presents on both Christmas and New Year’s Day.  On New Year’s Day many enjoy a lavish turkey dinner with family and/or friends.

Christmas cards were and are a favorite way for Canadians to keep in touch with friends and family who lived afar off.  Christmas cards first appeared in Canada in 1876.

In 1905, the Eaton’s department store sponsored the first Santa Claus Parade in Toronto.  The parade has grown in popularity and is now the largest Christmas parade in Canada.  Because of the success of the Toronto parade other cities started having Christmas parades of their own.

For years Canadians of all ages and especially British Canadians have spent Christmas afternoon either watching on TV or listening to the radio as the queen of England gives her annual message to the Commonwealth.

The Christmas season ends for British Canadians on January 6 with the Feast of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night.  A bean and a pea are baked into the Twelfth Night cake.  The people who find them in their piece of cake become the king and queen of the night’s festivities.

The First Nations Peoples of Canada includes all groups of people who lived in what is now North America prior to colonization by the Europeans.  Many of them held festivals during the winter season, such as winter solstice festivals featuring feasting, singing, dancing, drumming, racing competitions, and games of strength such as wrestling. 

Missionaries from the colonies taught these peoples the Christian Christmas customs they held dear.  Many of the First Nations Peoples started celebrating Christmas also mixing the old winter festival customs with the Christmas traditions brought by the missionaries.  Now many of the festivals include giving gifts and good things to children and to others.  Even Santa Claus visits these people with gifts and merry making at their Christmas festivities.

Canada’s Christmas customs have come from a wide variety of cultures.  They have given Canada a set of Christmas traditions unmatched anywhere in the world.  Yet they still have formed their own set of national Christmas customs. 

Merry Christmas!  Joyeux Noel!

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Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland

April 26, 2015

My daughter at Bronner's CHRISTmas WonderlandAbout five years ago my daughter and I visited the world’s largest Christmas store.  It was a great experience.  Walking through a store the size of one and a half football fields, enjoying the Christmas music being piped through the store’s public address system, and perusing shelf upon shelf of Christmas decorations we were mesmerized by the CHRISTmas Wonderland that is Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.

Located in Frankenmuth, Michigan, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland opened for business in 1954.  Over time the business grew.  The original building was expanded and two more buildings were added to enhance their customers’ Christmas shopping experience.  Finally in 1977 it was decided to consolidate all their holdings under one roof on a forty-five acre site at 25 Christmas Lane, Frankenmuth, Michigan.  In 1991 the store expanded again doubling its size.  Further expansions allowed them to add a shipping department shipping their ornaments all over the world and brought the size of their building to five and a half football fields.

At Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland one will find a treasure trove of Christmas ornaments, Christmas lights, Christmas trees, outdoor decorations, nativity scenes, and Santa suits and accessories, and much, much more.  Click here for a virtual tour of the world’s largest Christmas store.

For more information about this wonderful store and to order this year’s Christmas decorations go to www.bronners.com or better yet take a trip to Frankenmuth and visit the store for yourself.  I hope to visit Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland again with my family real soon.

Christmas in Italy – part 2

June 25, 2013

Wooden puppets depicting Italy's gift giver, Befana.

Wooden puppets depicting Italy’s gift giver, Befana.

The most cherished custom of the Italian Christmas is setting up and displaying the crèche or nativity scene. As the focus of the family’s decorating, the crèche may be simple and homemade or very elaborate with hundreds of pieces and many scenes. The tradition of the nativity scene was started in the early 1200s by St. Francis of Assisi who told the story of the birth of Christ using a living nativity complete with live animals. Contests are held every year for the best nativity display. Some towns get into the spirit by hosting living nativities some with up to 600 actors involved.

No matter how simple or how fancy the crèche, the Christ child in the manger is most cherished by the Italian people. Many will place their presents near the manger instead of under a Christmas tree, and families may even pray together in front of the manger.

A favorite set of figures found in many nativity scenes are the shepherds playing bagpipes. Legend has it that shepherds playing bagpipes played for Mary in Bethlehem when Christ was born. At one time bagpipe-playing shepherds would come from the fields in the mountains to play at Christmastime in the marketplaces and other locations in Rome. Today folk musicians, called zampognari, keep the tradition alive. These zampognari visit every carpenter’s shop and ever nativity and sing and play in front of the manger scene especially during the Christmas Novena. It is no wonder that the sound that most characterizes the Italian Christmas is that of bagpipe-playing zampognari.

Christmas trees are not as popular in Italy as they are in other areas of the world. Trees are most popular in the northern regions of Italy. Christmas trees may be imported from northern Europe, be artificial, or be live, potted trees. Many good things to eat are hung from the branches accompanied by many lights and other baubles. In Southern Italy many people hang fresh fruit and foil-covered chocolates on their tree. Children are allowed to eat the trimmings on January 6.

On Christmas Eve day a strict fast is observed until evening when a meatless meal is served. Fish may be served at this meal but no meat. Christmas day is a feast day. There is no “typical” Christmas menu. The main dish usually varies according to the region and the tastes and traditions of the family. In southern Italy baked, roasted, fried, or steamed eels served with rice may be the main dish while squid is a favorite along the sea coast. Other dishes enjoyed during the Christmas feast include clams, codfish, many kinds of beans, vegetables in vinegar, salads, bread, and pasta.

Gift giving in Italy is not associated with Christmas, as it is in many parts of the world. Instead Italians give gifts to each other on the day legend says the three kings gave their gifts to the Christ child, Epiphany or January 6. The story goes that as the three kings were on their way to Bethlehem they stopped at the house of an old woman to ask for directions. The old woman was busy cleaning her house and was angry at the kings for interrupting her work. The kings explained they were on their way to find a baby, the Christ child, born King of the Jews and worship him. Would she like to go along with them? No, she did not know how to get to Bethlehem nor did she want to find a squalling baby and worship him. “Now go away and let me get back to my work.” The kings left. The next morning the old woman had second thoughts. She started following the three kings hoping to find them. She could not find them. She stopped to ask about the kings and to ask for directions for Bethlehem. No one could help her. She traveled on looking for the baby and his parents. As she traveled she started leaving presents for the children in houses she passed. She wanted to give presents to the Christ child, but she did not know where he might be living. Legend says she is still wandering through the Earth looking for the Christ child.

This old woman known as Befana gives gifts to Italian children on January 6. The name Befana comes from the Italian word for Epiphany, Epifania. She is personified with white, disheveled hair, a hooked nose, and dressed in black. She is often portrayed as riding a broomstick. The first mention of Befana in Italian literature was in a poem written by Agnolo Firenzada, a poet from Tuscany. Children write notes to Befana asking for toys during the weeks preceding Epiphany.

Today, while Befana is the gift bearer for Italian children, Santa Claus is making inroads in Italian society.

As the Italian people say goodbye to the old year Befana appears again. In many towns and cities across Italy people go to the town square and burn a Befana puppet or a straw effigy of Befana. This time Befana symbolizes the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new year.

The Italian people have many wonderful customs for celebrating Christmas. From the intricate nativity villages to the bagpipe-playing zampognari to gift-giving Befana: these traditions bring Italian uniqueness to the world’s customs of Christmas.

If you wish to have an Italian Christmas this year you may want to have this favorite Italian Christmas dish.

Fried Eel

2 ½ pounds eels, cleaned and dried
½ cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rosemary
1/3 cup olive oil
Lemon slices

Cut eels crosswise into 3-inch pieces. Coat with flour and season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Heat oil in a skillet. Add coated eel pieces and fry over medium heat until golden brown on both sides (about 10 minutes). Accompany eel with lemon slices. Makes about 6 servings.

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