I’ve been thinking lately how everyone celebrates this time of year a little differently: some celebrate, some do not, some have traditions set in stone, while other things might change things up from year to year, and some traditions vary from place to place. So I thought I would share a glimpse of what Christmas looks like here in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
- First, you need to start preparing well in advance for a stress-free holiday. As the days shorten and the temperatures start to creep lower on the thermometer, your mind will naturally start turning towards the upcoming season. You will notice, though, most of your neighbours don’t decorate before November 11th, nor do the stores play their Christmas music quite yet. Remembrance Day is solemnly observed to honour our veterans and to remember the cost paid to keep our nation free, please and thank you.
- Thanksgiving was back in early October, so you don’t have to worry about it getting in the way of your Black Friday shopping. You also won’t find the bone-crushing frenzy in our stores on that day, either. There will be more orderly line-ups and some politeness found amongst the good deals. Sometimes if we want to get a taste of the thrill, we make a weekend trip out of it and visit our closest American state, Maine.
- To help get in the Christmas mood, go to your town’s Christmas parade. It will be filled with school children, various community groups and local businesses, music, joy and a spirit of togetherness.
- Watch the Empty Stocking Fund on TV, listen on the radio, watch in person, or participate! It is a fund-raiser held every year since 1912 to provide presents for children in less-fortunate families. Listening to children sing carols with their school choir is a great accompaniment to wrapping presents.
- Give to a local charity or food bank and spread the cheer. It is the season of giving, after all. All around I see people giving what they can to help their neighbour, and with a smile on their face, too. In a report by the news magazine, MacLean’s, the people of PEI are the most giving in the country when based on a percentage of income. Good job Islanders!
- Start your holiday baking with Canadian classics such as butter tarts, Nanaimo bars, peanut butter balls, sugar cookies, shortbread, peanut brittle, fruit cake, or gingersnaps. My family’s favorite is cherry balls.
- Decorate your house and set up your Christmas tree. Around here, I think people’s choice of real to artificial is about a 50-50 split. Some buy their tree from one of the many set up in parking lots, or make a family outing to a cut-your-own tree farm, and others take a walk through the woods behind their house to find the one they want.
- While wrapping your presents, put on a little Maritime holiday music. A nice blend of local talent might include The Barra MacNeils, Anne Murray, The Rankin Family, Rita MacNeil, and David Myles.
- Dig out your family’s favourite recipe for the best seafood chowder or tourtiere (an Acadian meat pie). Turkey and summer savoury stuffing are a must for Christmas dinner, but there will be plenty of family get-togethers where many other wonderful dishes will be enjoyed.
- When travelling throughout the Maritime Provinces to visit with family and friends, remember the weather might be different at your destination than your current location. Dress in layers and for every possibility. It might be a blizzard in Fredericton and -10 C, while an hour away in Saint John it might be raining and + 8 C. Don’t forget about the freezing rain you’ll drive through somewhere in the middle.
- And above all, plan on having some good times with family. They might include going for a sleigh ride, or playing crokinole at the kitchen table, or snowshoeing on a trail through the woods to enjoy the quietness of new-falling snow. You might be gathered around a tree, telling tales of the mischief you and your cousins got into in your youth, or a kitchen party with a few Christmas carols being sung, or a evening with your kids watching a traditional Christmas movie and eating a box of Ganong’s Red Wrap chocolates, Chicken Bones (a cinnamon and chocolate candy also by Ganong’s), and drinking eggnog.
In fact, when I did an impromptu poll and asked people what came to mind when they thought of Christmas in the Maritimes, the first thing they all said was family. I remember years ago a young cousin told me that was their favourite part of Christmas. Not the presents, not the lights, not the anticipation of Santa coming, but family. It struck me that one so young would be so wise to realize the importance of family.
There might have been some parts of a Maritime Christmas that I might have not thought of (or not known about). Or you might find the traditions closely mirror your own. However you might be spending the next few weeks, I hope you enjoy them. Don’t forget to live in the moment, take the opportunity to look around you and count your blessings, and create memories with your loved ones.
Merry Christmas from my house to yours!