Christmas dinner was a special meal in traditional society and had to be copious. Often dinner ended with pastries made from ingredients found at home: eggs from the hen house, fruit from the orchard. Many of these pastries were not only sweet but also symbolized Christmas: they were given as presents, they decorated the table or the tree and they could have magic protective powers against evil spells.

In France, each region had its specialty: Limousin its cornues, cugnots in the East, springerle in Alsace, pompe or fougasse in Provence, where the thirteen desserts were traditionally served...

In Canada, doughnuts and croquinoles (in rectangular shape), sprinkled with powdered or icing sugar, were a delicious dessert and resembled the fritters of Lorraine at carnival time. Doughnuts were served cold, often with jam made from tiny wild fruit, with jelly or with cream. In addition, there was a whole range of Christmas cookies and candies including the famous creamy fudge.

Three other desserts were also to be found on the festive Christmas table: the Yule log, plum pudding and Christmas cake.

Christmas dinner was a special meal in traditional society and had to be copious. Often dinner ended with pastries made from ingredients found at home: eggs from the hen house, fruit from the orchard. Many of these pastries were not only sweet but also symbolized Christmas: they were given as presents, they decorated the table or the tree and they could have magic protective powers against evil spells.

In France, each region had its specialty: Limousin its cornues, cugnots in the East, springerle in Alsace, pompe or fougasse in Provence, where the thirteen desserts were traditionally served...

In Canada, doughnuts and croquinoles (in rectangular shape), sprinkled with powdered or icing sugar, were a delicious dessert and resembled the fritters of Lorraine at carnival time. Doughnuts were served cold, often with jam made from tiny wild fruit, with jelly or with cream. In addition, there was a whole range of Christmas cookies and candies including the famous creamy fudge.

Three other desserts were also to be found on the festive Christmas table: the Yule log, plum pudding and Christmas cake.


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

Gingerbread cookies

Gouache drawing by Hans Haug depicting gingerbread cookies, Schwowebredle, especially made for Christmas. Various motifs are impressed on the dough.

Photo : Musée Alsacien, Strasbourg, France
Collection : Musée Alsacien, Strasbourg, France

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


Star-shaped cake tin

This Alsatian cake tin from Soufflenheim was used for cookie dough as well as for cake batter and was traditionally used at Christmas. Glazed terracotta.

Photo : Musée national des arts et traditions populaires (MNATP), Paris, France
Musée national des arts et traditions populaires (MNATP), Paris, France
XIXth Century
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Gingerbread houses

Traditional German gingerbread houses were decorated with icing and candies in a variety of shapes and colours. Replica of Chateau Frontenac created by Jean Soulard, Executive Chef at Chateau Frontenac, Josée Martineau and Yvan Caron for the exhibit, Noël en Allemagne (Christmas in Germany), presented by the Musée de la civilisation in 1994-1995. Gingerbread houses come from German tradition.

House: Benoît Paquet 1986, Chateau : Pierre Soulard, Musée de la civilisation, 1994
Collection : Musée de la civilisation, Québec, Canada

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


Estevenoun

Pastry elves, given by godparents to their godchildren the day after Christmas. Actual size; height: 29.5 cm

Photo : B. Delgado
Collection : Museon Arlaten, Arles, France

© 2008, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


There is a custom that on Christmas Eve an enormous log of freshly cut wood called the Yule log would be fetched and carried to the house with great ceremony. On Christmas Eve, the master of the house would place it on the hearth, make libations by sprinkling the trunk with oil, salt and mulled wine and say suitable prayers. In some families, the young girls of the house lit the log with splinters from the preceding year, which they had carefully tucked away. In other families, the mother had this privilege. It was said that the cinders of this log could protect the house from lightning and the malevolent powers of the devil. Choices about the variety of wood, the way in which it was lit and the length of time it took to burn constituted a genuine ritual that could vary from region to region.

The custom, which dates back to the XIIth century, was known in most Europeans countries, notably in France and in Italy where the Yule log was called a ceppo. This tradition persisted in Quebec as it did in France up until the last quarter of the XIXth century. Its disappearance coincides with that of great hearths, which were gradually replaced by cast-iron stoves. The great log Read More

There is a custom that on Christmas Eve an enormous log of freshly cut wood called the Yule log would be fetched and carried to the house with great ceremony. On Christmas Eve, the master of the house would place it on the hearth, make libations by sprinkling the trunk with oil, salt and mulled wine and say suitable prayers. In some families, the young girls of the house lit the log with splinters from the preceding year, which they had carefully tucked away. In other families, the mother had this privilege. It was said that the cinders of this log could protect the house from lightning and the malevolent powers of the devil. Choices about the variety of wood, the way in which it was lit and the length of time it took to burn constituted a genuine ritual that could vary from region to region.

The custom, which dates back to the XIIth century, was known in most Europeans countries, notably in France and in Italy where the Yule log was called a ceppo. This tradition persisted in Quebec as it did in France up until the last quarter of the XIXth century. Its disappearance coincides with that of great hearths, which were gradually replaced by cast-iron stoves. The great log was thus replaced by a smaller one, often embellished with candles and greenery, placed in the centre of the table as a Christmas decoration.

Today, the Yule log has become a traditional pastry, a delicious cake roll, smothered in coffee or chocolate-flavoured icing and decorated with sugared holly leaves and roses.


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

Yule Log

Pastrymaker's poster.

Photo : Musée national des arts et traditions populaires (MNATP), Paris, France
Collection : Musée national des arts et traditions populaires (MNATP), Paris, France

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


Blessing of the Yule Log

Sketch for a postcard by P. Kaufman. Black ink and watercolour. Grandfather places holly branches and says prayers over the Yule Log. The table is set and family celebrations overtake old agrarian rituals.

Photograph : Musée alsacien, Strasbourg, France
Collection : Musée alsacien, Strasbourg, France

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


In Provence, the traditional Christmas meal is called le gros souper (the big supper). It ends with a ritual number of 13 desserts symbolizing Christ and his 12 apostles. The deserts must be served all at the same time and each guest must taste each one of them. They consist of pastry and fruit:dried fruit called les quatre mendiants (the four beggars), by analogy with the habits of the mendicant orders: raisins for the Dominicans, dried figs for the Franciscans, nuts for the Augustines, and almonds for the Carmelites;
• the pompe à huile (pastry made with olive oil);
• light and dark fudge;
• candied or fresh fruit, particularly apples and grapes saved especially for Christmas;
• candies like calissons (marzipan) or biscotins (cookies) from Aix;
• and, more recently, the Yule log.

In Provence, the traditional Christmas meal is called le gros souper (the big supper). It ends with a ritual number of 13 desserts symbolizing Christ and his 12 apostles. The deserts must be served all at the same time and each guest must taste each one of them. They consist of pastry and fruit:dried fruit called les quatre mendiants (the four beggars), by analogy with the habits of the mendicant orders: raisins for the Dominicans, dried figs for the Franciscans, nuts for the Augustines, and almonds for the Carmelites;
• the pompe à huile (pastry made with olive oil);
• light and dark fudge;
• candied or fresh fruit, particularly apples and grapes saved especially for Christmas;
• candies like calissons (marzipan) or biscotins (cookies) from Aix;
• and, more recently, the Yule log.

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

This famous, typically English, dessert was given the name of plum pudding in the XVIIth century but had previously been called hackin from its many ingredients, sometimes reaching two dozen or more, which were finely chopped before being folded into the dough. The dessert was often prepared on Christmas morning and, generously sprinkled with brandy flamed as it was brought to the table, always served with great ceremony.

Christmas fruitcake is a derivative of the famous Christmas pudding or plum pudding. Although the recipe is simpler, this cake includes large quantities of candied fruit, raisins, dates and nuts and is just as delicious since it is prepared long in advance and regularly sprinkled with brandy or rum before being flamed when it is served.

This famous, typically English, dessert was given the name of plum pudding in the XVIIth century but had previously been called hackin from its many ingredients, sometimes reaching two dozen or more, which were finely chopped before being folded into the dough. The dessert was often prepared on Christmas morning and, generously sprinkled with brandy flamed as it was brought to the table, always served with great ceremony.

Christmas fruitcake is a derivative of the famous Christmas pudding or plum pudding. Although the recipe is simpler, this cake includes large quantities of candied fruit, raisins, dates and nuts and is just as delicious since it is prepared long in advance and regularly sprinkled with brandy or rum before being flamed when it is served.

© 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 some Christmas traditions in Canada and their development, with examples;
  • Compare Christmas traditions between cultures, including Francophone and Anglophone, and over time;
  • Recognize that material history and popular culture are illustrations of historical change.

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