White Christmas is coming! Streets are lit up, and Christmas presents are being prepared all over Canada. Christmas has always been an important holiday for Canadians. But have you heard of these strange Canadian Christmas traditions? Let’s start!
The Mummers in Newfoundland
Though the practice was illegalized in the nineteenth century, mummering has enjoyed a renaissance since the 1982 release of The Mummer’s Song by popular Newfoundland folk music duet Simani awakened a whole new generation of islanders to the activity.
The revived interest in mummering has resulted in the establishment of the annual Mummers Festival in St. John’s, where mummers from all across the province gather to march through the city’s streets. Workshops and seminars on the art of mummering and how to make your own hobby horse are also part of the festival.
While traditional mummering outfits resemble something out of a folk horror film (and at least one horror film has been created about mummers), modern celebrations of this peculiar Canadian Christmas ritual are nothing to be terrified of.
In Nova Scotia, there is belsnickeling.
Belsnickeling, a near relative of mummering, is one of Nova Scotia’s oddest Christmas customs, in which practitioners dress up as the bedraggled Christmas ogre Belsnickel and travel house to home demanding people guess who they are. Belsnickeling, originally a German custom, was imported to North America by 18th-century immigrants. While the practice has largely gone out, it is still observed on Nova Scotia’s South Shore and in Pennsylvania.
Belsnickel is a Santa Claus-like figure in German mythology. The one who rewards good boys and girls with gifts of nuts and candy while punishing naughty kids with his chestnut switch. Poor Belsnickel, a character more sinister than jolly old St. Nick, would be forgotten without this little-known Nova Scotia Christmas tradition and an episode of The Office.
Belsnickeling is so obscure that a 2018 Porter Airlines story on the practice sparked outrage on Twitter, with Nova Scotians insisting they’d never heard of it. However, it is still observed in small settlements, especially on the South Shore. This is one of the most unique traditional Canadian Christmas.
Le Fete de Roi cake
Le Fete de Roi, is one of the lesser-known French Canadian Christmas customs. It is a special celebration marking the end of the festive season in French-speaking countries worldwide. Quebeckers celebrate the Catholic feast day of Epiphany in early January with pastries called galettes des rois, or cakes of the king. These round, crusty pastries can be found at Quebec supermarkets and bakeries during the holiday season, often topped with gold paper crowns.
Each galette des rois contains a little token called la fève that designates whoever finds it in their slice as the king or queen. To avoid allegations of deception, the youngest child in some houses is tasked with shouting out the order in which each person receives a slice. The final slice is always reserved in case another visitor arrives so that everyone has a chance to become king.
While la fève was traditionally shaped like a fava bean, bakers nowadays frequently use plastic crown tokens or figurines of popular figures instead, similar to a Kinder Surprise egg or Happy Meal toy. During Le Fete de Roi, some people must collect as many of these royal tokens as possible.
St. Catherine’s Taffy
Quebec commemorates the Feast of St. Catharine on November 25 with a sweet concoction called St. Catharine’s Taffy, another unique (and delicious) French Canadian Christmas custom. Taffy Day is attributed to French nun Marguerite Bourgeoys, a famous clergywoman who founded Notre Dame de Montreal and was crowned Canada’s first female saint in 1982.
Bourgeoys and her sisters played an important role in educating underprivileged young women in the fledgling colony, settling les filles du roi and matching them with male suitors. Bourgeoys is claimed to have begun creating her famed taffy to reward her charges, who eventually created their own to give to men they were interested in, transforming St. Catharine’s Feast into an early Valentine’s Day (St. Catharine being the saint of unwed women.)
While that aspect of the tradition has died out, St. Catharine’s Taffy remains a popular treat in Quebec during the early days of the holiday season.
Christmas Chicken Bones in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia
Based on this custom, you may imagine Canadians in the east are carnivorous eaters. However, the Chicken Bones we’re talking about are vegan-friendly. Christmas Chicken Bones are a bright pink hard candy with chocolate in the center that originated with the Ganong Brothers in St. Stephens, New Brunswick. When you break them with your teeth, they shatter apart like a chicken bone. It’s such a popular holiday treat in our region that a local liquor company has made a liquor with the same cinnamon and chocolate flavor as the candy. This candy is really yummy and it’s a part of strange traditional Canadian Christmas.
A Christmas tree on its way to Boston in Nova Scotia
Following the huge explosion that shook Halifax on December 6, 1917, Bostonians flocked to Canada to help rebuild the city. It was a noble effort, especially with Christmas approaching. Since then, Halifax has shipped a gigantic pine tree (it even has its own Twitter account) 1,000 kilometers down to Boston each December as a show of gratitude for their support all those years ago.