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Christmas is at the heart of the holiday season today, but you need to know that it wasn’t always so. In fact, under the French Regime and until the mid-1800s, Christmas was essentially a religious holiday focused on prayers. So the real festive day was on New Year’s Day.

(Photo The Canadian Encyclopedia)

What you need to know is December 25 was celebrated differently by English Canadians and French Canadians. Indeed, the Anglophones have always given a privileged place to Christmas celebrations while Francophones celebrated the arrival of the New Year.

New Year’s Day was a very special day for everyone! Early in the morning, all the relatives met with the paternal grandparents where the table was already full of food. It was customary for families to leave early in the morning on New Year’s Eve, either by car or sleigh, to wake up grandparents and try to surprise them in bed.

The elder solemnly asked the father to bless the whole family, and after the ceremony, the children were given gifts. Everyone wished each other a happy new year, and the best wishes inevitably ended with the phrase “Et le paradis à la fin de vos jours!” [And heaven at the end of your days!]. Then people would go to mass, then the men would start their New Year’s visits. In each house, we exchanged greetings and kisses with a couple of drinks, in order to celebrate as it should be.

Eaton changes traditions

It was the arrival of Montreal’s department stores in an era of prosperity that brought this wind of change to Canadian homes. In 1905, Eaton launched its famous Santa Claus Parade. The first parades, both in Toronto and Winnipeg, are relatively small, with Santa Claus following a route from the train station to Eaton’s stores on Yonge streets in Toronto and Portage streets in Winnipeg. Over the next decade, the event grew bigger, with more floats and figures traveling longer routes. As the business grows and opens stores across the country.

The illuminated Christmas windows, the catalogs presenting gift ideas, the Santa Claus parade, have greatly contributed to the modification of the habits of Canadians who, influenced by the Eaton store, quickly moved their New Year’s festivities to a later date such as Christmas day.

Mélanie Calvé


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