How Canadians Celebrate Holidaysadmin2019-04-05T18:54:47+00:00
Surprisingly, which holidays you celebrate in Canada depends on which part of the country you live in! This could be a source of confusion to many immigrants. You will need to develop a habit of checking, for example in Google, when the next holiday is since many Canadian holidays don’t have a fixed date.
As an immigrant, you will also need to figure out which holidays in your province are ‘statutory’ a.k.a ‘paid holidays’ and which are not. A statutory holiday is legislated either through federal or provincial government. Most workers are entitled to take a day off with regular pay. However, if you are required to work or if you choose to work that day, you must be paid at a premium rate, usually 1 1/2 (known as ‘time and a half’) or twice (‘double time’).
Here is a list of holidays you may be celebrating in Canada:
(for details on Christmas, Halloween and Thanksgiving scroll down)
New Year’s Day
January 1 each year. Statutory holiday in Canada.
If you are an immigrant from Europe, you may be disappointed – Canadians don’t really celebrate New Year’s the way Europeans do. New Year’s Eve (December 31) is not considered a holiday. Canadians usually listen to the countdown to the new year, drink some champagne or other alcohol, watch the fireworks at midnight. There are parties organized at night clubs and bars. Since a lot of gifts are exchanged at Christmas, there’s usually little or no gift exchange on the New Year’s.
Celebrated on a Monday in February in BC, AB, MB, SK, ON, NB, NS and PEI.
called ‘Islander Day’ in PEI
called ‘Louis Riel Day’ in Manitoba
called ‘Heritage Day’ in Nova Scotia
February 14 each year. The most surprising aspect of this otherwise adult holiday is that children at school together with the teacher might decorate the classroom with hearts and make cards or presents for their parents.
St. Patrick’s Day
March 17 each year. It is an official holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador celebrating Irish culture, history and traditions. Colour green and the shamrock are symbols of St. Patrick’s Day. Some cities hold parades and people go to pubs to drink beer. Not many people know that 15% of Canadian population is of Irish descent (full or partial). 1.2 million Irish people came to Canada during the Great Famine during the 1840s because the potato crop failed in Ireland during that time and people were dying of starvation.
Friday immediately preceding Easter Sunday. Statutory holiday in Canada.
Easter is one of the major holidays in Canada. It spans from Good Friday to Easter Monday. Those who are Christian may attend religious services but for majority of Canadians it is a family holiday – an opportunity for a family to have a large meal together. Children in particular look forward to the Easter Egg Hunt. This tradition includes adults hiding chocolate eggs in the house or, if available, back yard and small children, who believe it is the Easter Bunny who brings the eggs, going to look for them.
Families can choose to get together on any day of the Easter weekend, with many choosing Sunday since the next day there’s no need to go to work.
Variable date between March 20 and April 23. Statutory holiday in Canada.
Second Sunday of May. It is a tradition in many Canadian families that children (with the help of their father) make breakfast for their mother and serve it to her while she is still in bed. Adult children usually take their mother out to a restaurant.
On the last Monday preceding May 25. Statutory holiday in Canada. Canadians celebrate it by attending parades and watching fireworks.
Third Sunday in June. This holiday was created in 1910 by a woman who was inspired by Mother’s Day. It’s a relatively new holiday being mostly promoted by businesses that encourage people to buy gifts for their fathers. Just like Mother’s Day, this could be a busier day for the restaurants. This day however is not reserved just for biological fathers – it is a day for all the ‘father figures’ in a person’s life (step-fathers, grandfathers, foster fathers and even uncles).
National Indigenous Peoples Day (formerly Aboriginal Day)
June 21 every year. Statutory holiday only in Northwest Territories and Yukon. The day was chosen because of the Summer Solstice.
St. Jean Baptiste Day – Quebec National Holiday
June 24 each year. Celebrated in Quebec only. If you choose to settle in Quebec, this will a more important holiday than Canada Day. In fact, July 1 in Quebec is traditionally known as ‘Moving Day’ as many people choose to move to a new house/apartment on that day.
July 1 each year. Statutory holiday in Canada.
First Monday in August. Name varies.
British Columbia Day
First Monday of August is celebrated as ‘British Columbia Day’ in British Columbia.
Alberta Heritage Day
First Monday of August is celebrated as ‘Alberta Heritage Day’ in Alberta.
Civic Holiday has various names in different municipalities in Ontario, for example it’s called ‘George Hamilton Day’ in Hamilton, ‘Alexander Mackenzie Day’ in Sarnia and so forth.
First Monday in September. Statutory holiday in Canada. To the great surprise of many immigrants, Labour Day in Canada is in September – not in May. In many countries of the world this holiday is celebrated on May 1. There is usually a Labour Day parade, but for most Canadians this is really the last long weekend of summer – the last chance for families to travel or just relax before the beginning of the school year.
Second Monday in October. Canadian Thanksgiving is different from United States Thanksgiving which is in November. Statutory holiday in Canada. For more information on this holiday, see above.
October 31 each year. For the detailed information on this holiday, see above.
November 11 each year. This holiday is not celebrated – it is ‘commemorated’ (it’s a sad holiday). On this day at 11am Canadians take 2 minutes of silence to remember the people who died in wars. Before and on this day some Canadians wear a red poppy on their clothes.
December 25 each year. Statutory holiday in Canada. For more information on this holiday, see above.
December 26 each year. If you live in Ontario, it is a statutory holiday in this province. It is however a statutory holiday for federally regulated workers and banks across the country. This is the day when many Canadians go to the shopping malls looking for sales and good deals. In reality, the only good deals you will actually find are on electronics. Nowadays, more and more people look for the deals online instead of going to a mall.
CHRISTMAS IN CANADA
For most Canadians, especially English-speaking Canadians, Christmas is not a religious holiday – it’s all about Santa Claus who brings gifts.
It is a family holiday.
December 24 is called “Christmas Eve” which means ‘evening’.
December 25 is called “Christmas Day” – children open gifts in the morning.
December 26 is called “Boxing Day” – this is when people go shopping looking for sales and discounts.
Christmas in Canada is a mix of traditions from different countries:
Santa Claus is from USA
Christmas tree and gingerbread house are from Germany
Christmas carols tradition is from France
coloured lights tradition is from Netherlands
greeting cards tradition is from England
As an immigrant, it’s a good idea to watch some Christmas movies and listen to some Christmas songs to become familiar with this tradition and understand what is happening around you. Christmas is a big part of Canadian culture and understanding it will make your life easier.
Here are some movies you could watch:
“Jingle All the Way” (learn about the consumerism aspect of the culture) – comedy
“Elf” (learn about who elves are and what is their relationship with Santa Claus) – comedy
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (learn about what people hate about Christmas) – comedy
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (learn who Grinch is and what is his role in Christmas) – Jim Carrey, a famous Canadian comedian plays the main role
“Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (learn about who Rudolf is and what his role is in Christmas) – animated, old, cartoon
“A Christmas Carol” (2009) (learn about who Scroodge is and what is his role in the culture and Christmas) – a little scary, animated movie
“Four Christmases” (learn about families and people’s attitude towards Christmas) – comedy
Songs to listen to if you want to understand the culture:
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”
“Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer”
“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire)”
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Yeah”
HALLOWEEN IN CANADA
Halloween is a holiday for children and their families. Teenagers and young adults also enjoy it. A week before Halloween some people decorate their houses and carve jack-o’-lanterns. Costumes are either made or bought in the preparation for the evening of trick-or-treating and parties.
Halloween is now always celebrated on the night of October 31 – the date is now fixed.
What is the history of Halloween?
This holiday was brought to North America by Irish and Scottish immigrants in the 19th century.
Which countries celebrate Halloween?
Canada, USA, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Puerto Rico. Also, because of American movies, young people in many other countries are now starting to have Halloween parties.
What is jack-o’-lantern?
Jack-o’-lantern is a name for a carved pumpkin. Families go to a grocery store (some go to a pumpkin patch = pumpkin farm) and children choose a pumpkin. Big size pumpkins are for carving (cutting) while smaller size pumpkins are for making a pie. Most people would carve a face on their pumpkin, then put some light inside (people used to put a candle inside) and then place the jack-‘o-lantern on their home’s doorstep. Some people enjoy carving different beautiful and interesting designs on their pumpkins.
What is Devil’s Night?
The night before Halloween is known as the Devil’s Night. This used to be (not anymore!) traditionally the night when young people would go out and cause small trouble in the neighbourhood, for example throw eggs at windows.
Watching horror movies
Watching horror or similar scary movies is a tradition for many people the week before Halloween.
Going to a dance club dressed up in a costume is popular with young people. On many college campuses, Halloween is a big celebration hosting many costume parties.
Decorating the house
Many people decorate their houses and front yard with all sorts of scary things. When children go trick-or-treating, decorated house and the light inside means that the owners are giving out candy. If you don’t want to participate, turn your lights off and pretend you are not home.
“Trick or Treat!!!”
Trick or Treat is what children say to ask for candy when they knock on the door. After they receive the candy, they are expected to say “Thank you”. Other foods that may be given out include small bags of chips and Coca-Cola or other pop. Parents teach their children not to eat any candy right away but bring everything home for inspection. Mother or father will check every candy before allowing the child to eat it. Some parents would take all the candy and only give the child several a day to eat.
The candy can be collected in any bag. Traditionally, small children were give small plastic pumpkins (buckets) while older kids would walk around with a pillow case!
Children of all ages participate in trick-or-treating – from two years old to fourteen years old.
Candy apples used to be a typical Halloween treat but not anymore. You can still see them in stores – they are called toffee or taffy apples and are made by rolling whole apples in a sticky sugar syrup.
Most apartment buildings do not allow trick-or-treating for safety reasons. If you live in an apartment, take your child to a neighbourhood with many decorated houses.
Some condo buildings would allow trick-or-treating. Participating units should display a pumpkin or some other sign on the door to show that they are giving out candy.
Costumes may be scary or not – some girls would dress up as little princesses or butterflies. The most popular costumes are a witch, a vampire and a cat. Teenagers and young people would often choose to dress up as a character from a favourite TV series (batman, spiderman, superman, joker, etc.) Many choose to look like a zombie.
People who have pets, especially dogs, often dress up their four-legged friends in costumes as well.
In the workplace
You may be surprised to see people wearing costumes to work on Halloween. For some people it’s a personal choice, while some workplaces organize Halloween parties for their employees.
Halloween is a holiday for children. If you don’t want a scary costume for your child, you have the choice of a different, more peaceful option. To keep peace in your family and a good relationship with your children, it’s better to let them enjoy trick-or-treating because later, when kids go to school the next day, they will be talking to their classmates and comparing. If a child realizes he/she missed out on the fun and candy, they might develop the feeling of resentment against their parents.
THANKSGIVING IN CANADA
Thanksgiving is a family holiday. In Canada, it is celebrated on the second Monday in October. (In USA, it is in November)
Children at school might be doing some art related to Thanksgiving (turkeys, cornucopias, etc.) and bringing it home.
Canadian families buy a turkey – usually a frozen one – and defrost it in the fridge for several days (a 15-pound turkey will take three days to defrost in the fridge). Most people buy their turkey about a week before the holiday.
When buying a turkey, you have to make sure that it’s big enough to feed the whole family. It’s also important to think – if buying in advance – whether your freezer is big enough to fit it.
Turkey takes a long time to cook – two, three, four or more hours depending on the size.
The tradition is to cook the whole turkey – not to chop it into pieces. That’s because on the day of the Thanksgiving dinner (could be any day of the long weekend), the ‘carving’ of the bird is seen as an honour. Carving means cutting. It is traditionally done right at the table with everyone sitting around and watching, even though it’s more practical to do it in the kitchen.
After the Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey leftovers are placed in the fridge and used the next day for sandwiches.
The traditional side dish for the turkey is mashed potatoes. People also eat corn, yams, sweet potatoes, broccoli, green beans, squash and mushrooms (mushroom soup).
The traditional sweet to be eaten on the Thanksgiving Day is pumpkin pie. Most people just buy one at the grocery store, even though some people make it from scratch. Store-bought pies usually have too much sugar in them, so people who care about the health of their families might choose to make a pumpkin pie at home. It’s also more fun for the kids – if they are involved in making it, they are more likely to enjoy eating it.
Some people who don’t like pumpkin pie would get an apple pie or a pecan pie instead.
Thanksgiving is celebrated with family but people usually don’t give gifts to each other. Most people would stay home after dinner and watch TV.
Thanksgiving is also a time for weekend getaways – families/couples go to parks to observe the autumn leaves, spend one last weekend at the cottage, or participate in different outdoor activities such as hiking and fishing.
A little history:
The first Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated by British explorer Marin Frobisher. He was trying to find a northern passage to Asia. In 1578, in Newfoundland, he held the first formal ceremony to give thanks for surviving the long journey.
What is Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is a harvest festival. People used to live off the land – farming – and every year they would give thanks for the successful harvest. They would celebrate it by eating the foods that they harvested. This was the tradition in all North America (First Nations people celebrated it this way). Many countries have harvest festivals.
In 1879, Canada’s Parliament announced Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It’s a statutory holiday in most of Canada – people don’t go to work, it’s their day off.