In the Middle Ages, the Festival of the Madmen and the Festival of the Ass or donkey were very popular.

The Festival of Madmen took place on Christmas day, December 25, New Year’s day or Epiphany and recalls the Roman Saturnalia. It is a time of liberty when servants become masters and masters servants. For the space of a single day, society’s values are turned upside down and religions derided.

In some towns, the Festival of the Ass was commemorated on Christmas Eve or during the second vespers on December 25: recalling the flight into Egypt, a young girl with babe in arms entered a church riding an ass or donkey. During the mass, all the prayers ended with "hee-haw". The Church quickly banned these celebrations which took on a sacrilegious character.

In the Middle Ages, the Festival of the Madmen and the Festival of the Ass or donkey were very popular.

The Festival of Madmen took place on Christmas day, December 25, New Year’s day or Epiphany and recalls the Roman Saturnalia. It is a time of liberty when servants become masters and masters servants. For the space of a single day, society’s values are turned upside down and religions derided.

In some towns, the Festival of the Ass was commemorated on Christmas Eve or during the second vespers on December 25: recalling the flight into Egypt, a young girl with babe in arms entered a church riding an ass or donkey. During the mass, all the prayers ended with "hee-haw". The Church quickly banned these celebrations which took on a sacrilegious character.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

In France, in traditional society, preparing for the Christmas holiday meant wholesale housecleaning and the completion of household repairs and maintenance projects. The saying recommends: 

À la saint Thomas
Cuis ton pain, lave tes draps
Tue un porc gras si tu l’as
Tu ne l’auras pas sitôt tué
Que Noël sera arrivé

In all regions on Christmas Eve, games, riddles, songs, stories and legends help to pass the hours until Midnight Mass and the traditional meal. In Provence, Alsace and Franche Comté, distinctive regional Christmas traditions have developed, such as living crèches and special markets.
In France, in traditional society, preparing for the Christmas holiday meant wholesale housecleaning and the completion of household repairs and maintenance projects. The saying recommends: 

À la saint Thomas
Cuis ton pain, lave tes draps
Tue un porc gras si tu l’as
Tu ne l’auras pas sitôt tué
Que Noël sera arrivé

In all regions on Christmas Eve, games, riddles, songs, stories and legends help to pass the hours until Midnight Mass and the traditional meal. In Provence, Alsace and Franche Comté, distinctive regional Christmas traditions have developed, such as living crèches and special markets.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

XIXth century France was largely rural and there were noticeable differences between urban and rural festive customs. Christmas festivities had a religious character: Midnight Mass was a powerful moment in the liturgical calendar. Popular merry-making, which focused on Nativity plays and worship at the family crèche , developed with distinct regional characteristics. Christmas dinner in the country had not yet taken on the form of the "réveillon" or Christmas Eve party.
 
Today, religious elements have given way to a family celebration with adults and children gathering around the tree for the traditional exchange of presents.
XIXth century France was largely rural and there were noticeable differences between urban and rural festive customs. Christmas festivities had a religious character: Midnight Mass was a powerful moment in the liturgical calendar. Popular merry-making, which focused on Nativity plays and worship at the family crèche , developed with distinct regional characteristics. Christmas dinner in the country had not yet taken on the form of the "réveillon" or Christmas Eve party.
 
Today, religious elements have given way to a family celebration with adults and children gathering around the tree for the traditional exchange of presents.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

In Canada, Christmas traditions have come from many countries. France has given us its celebration of the Nativity with its old carols, Germany the Christmas tree and its many ornaments and England, greeting cards. Ireland has bequeathed us the ancient Gaelic custom of putting lights in windows. The United States has provided Santa Claus and Czechoslovakia and Japan have produced a flood of Christmas tree and interior home decorations of all kinds.

The 1880s marked a turning point in the celebration of Christmas in Canada after which the Anglophone urban middle class began to adopt new practices. Henceforward Christmas was no longer observed uniquely as a religious festival but became a symbol of secular entertainment. Without doubt the central figure in these changes was Santa Claus. 


For the majority of Francophones, however, this transformation did not occur until after the First World War. Good old "Père Noël" moved very quickly from his minor role, becoming the pivotal figure for many community events.

In Canada, Christmas traditions have come from many countries. France has given us its celebration of the Nativity with its old carols, Germany the Christmas tree and its many ornaments and England, greeting cards. Ireland has bequeathed us the ancient Gaelic custom of putting lights in windows. The United States has provided Santa Claus and Czechoslovakia and Japan have produced a flood of Christmas tree and interior home decorations of all kinds.

The 1880s marked a turning point in the celebration of Christmas in Canada after which the Anglophone urban middle class began to adopt new practices. Henceforward Christmas was no longer observed uniquely as a religious festival but became a symbol of secular entertainment. Without doubt the central figure in these changes was Santa Claus. 


For the majority of Francophones, however, this transformation did not occur until after the First World War. Good old "Père Noël" moved very quickly from his minor role, becoming the pivotal figure for many community events.


© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

St Nicholas, holding a cross in his hand, puts a jumping jack in a pair of shoes outside a house.

St Nicholas, holding a cross in his hand, puts a jumping jack in a pair of shoes outside a house.

Musée national des arts et traditions populaires (MNATP), Paris, France
19th Century
Coloured lithograph
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


During the Christmas season, a number of churches and charitable organizations serve the poor and the destitute a traditional Christmas dinner (roast turkey with vegetables and dessert). Funded in 1910 by Reverend Pike, a Methodist Chruch minister, The Bissell Center has reached out to the Edmonton communitiy for over 80 years by providing services daily for the residents of the inner city. An annual Christmas dinner is cooked and served by volunteers to over 1 000 people on New Year’s Day, allowing all involved to partake in the spirit of giving.
During the Christmas season, a number of churches and charitable organizations serve the poor and the destitute a traditional Christmas dinner (roast turkey with vegetables and dessert). Funded in 1910 by Reverend Pike, a Methodist Chruch minister, The Bissell Center has reached out to the Edmonton communitiy for over 80 years by providing services daily for the residents of the inner city. An annual Christmas dinner is cooked and served by volunteers to over 1 000 people on New Year’s Day, allowing all involved to partake in the spirit of giving.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner

The Provincial Archives of Alberta, in Edmonton

Photography
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Salvation Army's hat

Shown is the distinctive woman's straw hat, part of this charitable organization's uniform and a symbol of it's public fundraising drive that takes place every Christmas season. Specially made in London in 1946 for the Salvation Army, this hat was worn for dress occasions and was fastened under the chin with a fabric strap.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

Photography
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • identify how people, events, and ideas of the past shape the present;
  • describe the development of the Christian Christmas religious celebration;
  • describe past and present Canadian Christmas traditions, with examples;
  • compare Christmas traditions between cultures, and over time.

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