Christmas in North America

Christmas traditions in North America are numerous and varied. Each nation in Canada and the USA which celebrates Christmas has many traditions of its own. Some traditions like Santa Claus have been "imported" from Europe and transformed according to business laws. In 1863 Santa Claus got its red clothes, white beard and a sleigh with reindeer. This fact gradually resulted in commercialism of Christmas not only in North America, but also all over the World.

According to popular beliefs both Canadians and Americans claim that Santa is living on their territory. Americans say that Santa has two homes. One is Wilmington, New York where Santa and his reindeer have their own village. But, Santa gives presents to people in Torrington, Connecticut.

Between the 26th December and the 6th January people in Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia observe tradition of "Mummering." Group of people or "belsnicklers" wearing special costumes walk from house to house. There they knock on someone's door and speak in disguised voice. They say "Are there any Mummers in the night?" or "Any mummers 'loud in?'", which means "are mummers allowed in the house?" After that they sing and dance. They are offered some biscuits and drinks. There are several variations of this tradition. For example, if the host does not recognize those speaking in disguised voice, she or he has to join them and continue to "mummer" with them. Belsnicklers sometimes ask kids if they are good. If say yes, they get some candies.

Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower
Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower

On the 6th January 1917 terrible tragedy happened in "The Narrows" section of the Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia. A French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc collided with the Norwegian ship SS Imo. Due to the fact that French ship was loaded with military explosives the collision resulted in death of some 2,000 people and injuries of more than 9,000 people. City of Boston helped people of Halifax a lot then. As sort of thank you present they each year sent the biggest Christmas fir tree available in Nova Scotia to the people of Boston.

"Taffy Pull" is a tradition honouring Saint Catherine, which is the patron saint of single women. People of Northern Canada organize parties where single women and men can meet. In some parts of Canada the Inuit people celebrate "Sinck Tuck". At Sinck Tuck festival people dance and exchange presents.

In Labrador city, Newfoundland there is a Christmas Light-up Contest. People decorate their houses with lights. They also make snow and ice sculptures in their front gardens. In Labrador people give turnips to children. Inside a turnip people dig a small hole and put a candle inside.

Lovely part of Canadian Christmas season are so called cookie-baking parties. Family members bake certain Christmas biscuits and together with the recipe for it they bring it to a party. There they exchange them with other people. During Christmas Canadians often buy sweets called Barley Candy and Chicken Bones. Barely Candy is sold on a small stick. It is shaped like Santa, Christmas tree or something like that. Chicken Bones are pink candies which taste like cinnamon. When this part of candy is melted in your mouth you get to the part made of milk chocolate.


In Quebec people decorate their homes with a crèche or nativity scene. After attending a Midnight Mass people have a Christmas dinner or "reveillon." Out of many Christmas delicacies let's mention two - meat pie "Tourtière" and meatballs "Boulettes." Tourtière is filled with minced pork. Other combinations of meat are also possible.

In the past people even used meat of the Passenger pigeon or Wild pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). This pigeon is now extinct. It interesting to mention that the word "tourtière" comes from the French word "tourte" or Passenger pigeon. The Tourtière pie usually includes various spices like cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg.

Christmas season in Quebec ends on the 6th January. It's a feast called "La Fete du Roi" or "Party of the King." People prepare a special cake and hide a bean inside. Person who finds it when eating the cake is declared a king or a queen.

In San Felipe Pueblo, New Mexico local Native American community still perform very special Christmas Eve dance. A priest performs his sermon and leaves. Little bit after his departure a bird call is heard. The sound is created by a person blowing into a shallow plate of water through a hollow reed. Then, with the sound of drum, dancers arrive moving towards the altar. Dancers wear masks, costume made of animal skins, shells, feathers and so on. On his head each dancer has antlers. Dancers perform four dances (deer, turtle, eagle and buffalo). Woman arrives carrying little bit of the sacred spruce tree called "Hakak." This tree is a symbol of eternal life and is believed to participate in the creation of our world.

A special Christmas Tree ship brings Christmas trees to Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November). Santa Claus also arrives by boat. During Christmas season strange little people can be seen in shops of Hawaii. They are "menehunes." They used to live in Hawaii before the arrival of Polynesian population. Nowadays locals say that the menehunes are Santa's helpers. The same as in Hawaii, Santa Claus in California arrives in an unusual way. There he arrives surfing.

In Alaska boys and girls with lanterns go door to door carrying a star figure on a pole. People invite them in for supper. In Washington D.C. the President turns on the lights on a huge Christmas tree. In New Orleans there is a parade with big ox decorated with holly and ribbons tied to his horns. In Arizona they have a ceremony of Mexican origin called "La Pasada". During La Pasada there is a procession and a play about Mary and Joseph looking for a place in the inn.

Polish Americans cover their kitchen floor and their table with some straw. This is done to remind everyone of the place where Jesus was born. When setting a table two places are left for Mary and baby Jesus in case that they arrive and ask for a place to stay.

Some people in North America decorate their Christmas tree with a Christmas pickle. There is a tradition according to which the child who manages to find this ornament will get an extra Christmas present. Some people believe that the founder will be lucky in the coming year.

Each of 50 American states has its own delicacies served at Christmas dinner. Let's just mention two examples. In Louisiana and in other states of the American South people enjoy Gumbo. This delicious stew or soup includes one or more kinds of poultry, shellfish and smoked pork. It is usually served over rice. In the city of Baltimore locals prepare great Sauerkraut with Turkey. Apples, onions and carrots are part of the famous recipe.