Posts Tagged ‘Twelfth Night’

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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Christmas in Germany

February 14, 2012

English: Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in...

Image via Wikipedia

Christmas celebrations in Germany start on November 11 with the celebration of St. Martin’s Day.  St. Martin’s Day remembers Martin, a Roman soldier, who, when riding through the countryside on a cold day, met a beggar asking for alms.  Martin had nothing on him to give but, noticing that the beggar was cold, took his cloak and cut it in two pieces and gave one piece to the beggar.  That night, after Christ appeared to him in a dream, Martin devoted his life to service to God.

On St. Martin’s Day children receive small gifts and eat treats, mainly currant buns.  They make homemade lanterns out of cardboard and transparent colored paper.  Some of these lanterns are quite intricate.  They hang the lanterns on long poles and march through town.  After the procession the people reenact the legend of St. Martin.

On November 30, St. Andrew’s Night is celebrated.  Young girls, before retiring for the night, may perform rituals to predict the identity of their future husbands.

About four weeks before Christmas, approximately December 1, many Germans observe the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is a time of introspection and preparation looking forward to the birthday of the Christ child.  It is observed during the four Sundays before Christmas.

On St. Barbara’s Day, December 4, early budding cherry branches are cut and put in a warm place to bloom for Christmas.

Children look forward to December 6, St. Nicholas’s Day.  St. Nicholas visits all the children of Germany along with an assistant, either Black Peter or Krampus.  St. Nicholas arrives riding a white horse not a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer and is a stern man not jolly.  St. Nicholas gives gifts, candy, and treats to all the good children while Black Peter or Krampus gives switches to the naughty children.

On the 13th of December children gather and parade through town singing carols.  At the end of the parade route they perform a play about the Nativity.

On December 21, St. Thomas’s Day, the air is filled with the aroma of rich fruitcakes baking.  After all the baking is finished the people gather to dance the night away.

The big Christmas celebration begins on December 23, the Eve of the Eve.  It is said that the Virgin Mary and flights of angels fly overhead bringing advanced word of the Christ child’s birth.  On Christmas Eve, December 24, the Christmas baking is done, presents are wrapped and distributed, and the Christmas tree is decorated.  Children leave lists of gifts they wish to receive on the window sills for the Christ child, the Christmas gift giver in Germany.  The main dish for supper on December 24 is carp.  Brass bands serenade passersby with Christmas carols, and people attend midnight church services.  On Christmas day Catholic and Lutheran families attend church services.  Goose is the meal of choice, and families spend time with each other.

December 26 is St. Stephen’s Day, and December 28 is Holy Innocent’s Day.  Holy Innocent’s Day remembers the slaughter of the children of the Bethlehem area by King Herod.  On that day children pretend to swat adults with switches and are placated with small presents.

Traditional foods served on December 31, New Year’s Eve, are carp, a hot spiced punch called sylvesterabend served with pfannkuchen (doughnuts), and balbauschen, a fried cake stuffed with raisins and currants.  People also attend early evening church services.

Epiphany (January 6), also known as Twelfth Night or Festival of the Three Kings, is celebrated by eating Kings cakes.  Kings cakes are baked with a bean inside.  The one who finds the bean becomes king of the feast and is allowed to give ridiculous orders to those around him or her.

The final night of the Christmas season comes on January 13 and is known as Octave of Epiphany.  Groups of four boys each march around town singing “star songs.”  One boy carries a lighted star on a pole while the others are dressed as the three kings.  Some groups carry a crib filled with good things to leave with a needy family.

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