Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Traditions

Today, I'm going to take a break from writing about serious topics and write about one that I really enjoy: Christmas. As I do every year, I am in Canada now at my parents' house where we'll all be spending Christmas together as a family.

Christmas in Canada

Christmas is really big in Canada. It's big in the US too, but people seem to have gotten too politically correct these days and it seems everyone's afraid to wish each other a merry Christmas - they say "Happy Holidays" out of fear of offending anyone who isn't a Christian (something that really irks me, as I wrote last year). Here in Canada, it seems everyone likes Christmas. It's always been a tradition here, and the immigrants (including non-Christians) who came here generally like the holiday and have adopted it too. I remember when I was in university and asked a Sikh friend of mine if they did anything at that time of year - I was surprised to hear about how they put up a Christmas tree and hung stockings, exchanged gifts, Santa came to visit, and all that. Here in Canada, they don't bother with any of that "Happy Holidays" nonsense, nobody seems to get offended by being wished a merry Christmas in Canada.

Perhaps one reason Christmas is such a big holiday in Canada is that Thanksgiving is a very minor holiday here, and we have a bit of catching up to do.

The whole tradition of Santa Claus is taken quite far in Canada too. If a child writes a letter to Santa Claus here and drops it in a mailbox in Canada, he/she will get a personal reply. In the days before Christmas, the television or radio news may feature stories about Santa's workshop, and on Christmas eve, the good folks at NORAD (the joint Canada/US air defense command) track Santa's path across North America, and provide video that is covered by the major news organizations here.

Christmas in my Family

Every family seems to have their own traditions around Christmas. Many of these traditions are common across Canada, and others are unique to a particular family. In some cases, these family traditions have evolved over several generations in reaction to the family's unique history. Of course, Canada shares a history interwoven with that of the United States, and so it should come as no surprise that our traditions here are very similar to those in the US, and in most cases identical.

A few oddities about my family's Christmas:
  • The Christmas tree you see in the picture is the one at my parents' house. It may not look like much, but it means a lot to us. Growing up in a military family, we did not always have an opportunity to go get a real tree, so about 30 years ago, my parents bought an artificial tree, and there it is, the same tree 30 years later. One real benefit of an artificial tree in a military family: when you're moving around from place to place, it is nice to have one thing that stays the same each year.
  • On Christmas Eve, we eat a nice dinner (usually duck a l'orange or another gourmet dish), then go to midnight mass at church. I've always enjoyed midnight mass on Christmas Eve, as it reminds us of the real reason behind our doing all this.
  • On Christmas Eve, the kids are looking anxiously at all the presents under the Christmas tree, which they know they're not allowed to touch until Christmas morning. To whet their appetite a bit, we sometimes let them open just one present on Christmas Eve.
  • On Christmas morning, the kids come down and see their stockings and everything Santa's left them. When the rest of us come down, we all sit and take turns opening presents until they're all done. Then, we sit down to a brunch of eggs benedict with homemade hollandaise sauce and champagne, and in the afternoon the kids play with all their new toys while we phone all of our out of town relatives, and go visit friends.
  • One odd thing our family does on Christmas day: all bows and gift bags are put away and reused the next year. This is a bit of a tradition that dates back to the Great Depression in my family, when my grandparents used to save wrapping paper and re-use it year after year.

If anyone else has any of their own Christmas traditions they'd like to share, I'd love to hear them.