Celebrating Christmas in Canada

Edana Robitaille
Published: December 25, 2022

Canada welcomes newcomers and cultures from around the world. Its reputation for stability and tolerance makes it a popular destination for those considering a fresh start in a new country.

Even with the growing number of immigrants in Canada, Canadians tend to observe holidays and traditions leftover from Canada’s earlier history as a French and British colony.

These traditions are often rooted in Christian beliefs and Christmas day is arguably the most observed holiday of the year.

Christmas began as, and for millions around the globe still is, a religious holiday in the Christian faith that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The latest census data reports that 53.3% of Canadians identify as Christian but this is still down from 67.3% in 2011.

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The census also shows that the number of Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus has doubled over the past 20 years, with immigration being the driving force behind the growing numbers.

The same data says over 300,000 people in Canada reported being Jewish. Hannukah, an eight-day winter festival of lights in the Jewish faith, is being observed this year between December 18-26.

Regardless of religious belief, over half of Canadians celebrate Christmas as a completely secular holiday to spend time with friends and family. Whether religious observance is part of the day or not, there are many long-standing Christmas traditions that everyone can enjoy.

Christmas trees

Most Canadians who celebrate Christmas will venture out into the cold to visit a tree farm, or a local Christmas tree lot, with family to select a pine or fir tree that will fit in a shared area of the home. Statistics Canada says this year there are 1,346 farms in Canada that sell Christmas trees. Additionally, Canada exported over 2.4 million fresh Christmas trees in 2021. Over 95% went to the United States but the remaining 5% went south to the Caribbean and Central America.

Bringing home a fresh tree takes some work. After overcoming the challenges posed by getting it into the house and supported in the tree stand (a process that is much harder than it looks) the tree is decorated with lights and ornaments. The theme and colours for decorating a Christmas tree are entirely the choice of the family. There are no rules.

Artificial trees are also an extremely popular choice for the holidays as many see them as more economical, safer for pets, and less harmful to the environment since they do not require live trees to be cut down.

Santa leaves gifts for children

The Christmas tree typically becomes a gathering point for the holiday season but it has one other important function, at least from the point of view of small children. It is where Santa Claus leaves presents on Christmas eve.

Santa Claus, also known as simply Santa or St. Nick, is a fat, jolly old man in a red suit (there is some debate on if he is actually an elf) who comes down the chimney, or uses magic to shrink himself through the keyhole, and leaves presents for children under the tree. Traditionally, children will leave milk and cookies for Santa and sometimes carrots for the reindeer who pull his sled.

Santa may leave presents for adults as well, but they are much more likely to come from exchanging gifts with family and friends, meaning It can be an expensive time of year. An Equifax report released in November this year says Canadian households will spend an average of $1,500 in gifts and purchases for the holiday season.

Christmas dinner is huge

A traditional Christmas dinner in Canada is one of the biggest meals you will eat all year so make sure to wear something comfortable.

Some eat it on Christmas eve while others wait until Christmas day. It consists of a roast turkey or ham, potatoes, other vegetables, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and, traditionally, apple or pumpkin pie for dessert.

Christmas dinner traditions can vary from province to province. For example, in Quebec, it is traditional to make a tourtière pie rather than a turkey. Tourtière is a meat pie that can be a combination of beef, pork, or veal, as well as potatoes and other vegetables, and seasoned with spices. In Newfoundland, a Jiggs dinner (boiled salt pork or beef ribs with vegetables) is a popular alternative to a roast turkey.

Overall, Christmas dinner is a very individualized choice and it’s more about making a meal that everyone at your gathering can enjoy. There is a growing number of Canadians who do not eat meat and chose vegetarian or vegan options over turkey or ham.

The lead-up to Christmas is also a time for parties and, of course, more food and drinks. Christmas cookies are hard to avoid (if you wanted to) and there are often charcuterie boards and small appetizers to be had. Eggnog is also popular during the season. It is a creamy drink that is often spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg and, for adults, might contain some rum.

Christmas lights at night

Canada in December is extremely dark and cold. To combat the gloom that can come with the sudden loss of heat and light over the Christmas season, Canadians often decorate the outside of their homes with colourful lights and displays of Christmas symbols such as Santa and his reindeer. It is not unusual to see nativity scenes (recreations of the bible story that describes where Jesus was born) in a neighbour’s yard.

Most exterior decorations are modest and consist of lights around the doors and windows at the front of the home. Others, however, plan their lights weeks in advance and create elaborate, very bright displays on their home and all over their property. It is a tradition for many Canadians to walk or drive around their neighbourhoods to look for the best Christmas lights (and walk off that dinner!).

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