In spite of the communal aspect of the Christmas holiday, Quebec Francophone traditions remain strongly impregnated with its sacred character. Christmas proved to be a particularly good source of many beliefs in traditional popular culture. These beliefs, which were passed on from generation to generation through oral tradition, mainly focused on domestic animals, reciting one thousand Hail Marys, ways of predicting the future, kissing under the mistletoe, discovering hidden treasures, the mass for the departed and the funeral of the devil.

In France, because Christmas Eve is a "night of miracles", extraordinary things can happen.

In Brittany, the dead come back to their old houses to take their place at the "réveillon" for the time it takes the 12 strokes of midnight to sound. In Corsica, elderly people tell their children or their grandchildren the secret of the ritual prayers to guard against "l’occhio", or the evil eye. For country people, the Christmas period has also contributed to many sayings about the weather and the quality of the next harvest. Some of them are still current today.
In spite of the communal aspect of the Christmas holiday, Quebec Francophone traditions remain strongly impregnated with its sacred character. Christmas proved to be a particularly good source of many beliefs in traditional popular culture. These beliefs, which were passed on from generation to generation through oral tradition, mainly focused on domestic animals, reciting one thousand Hail Marys, ways of predicting the future, kissing under the mistletoe, discovering hidden treasures, the mass for the departed and the funeral of the devil.

In France, because Christmas Eve is a "night of miracles", extraordinary things can happen.

In Brittany, the dead come back to their old houses to take their place at the "réveillon" for the time it takes the 12 strokes of midnight to sound. In Corsica, elderly people tell their children or their grandchildren the secret of the ritual prayers to guard against "l’occhio", or the evil eye. For country people, the Christmas period has also contributed to many sayings about the weather and the quality of the next harvest. Some of them are still current today.

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

Angels following the Wise Men

Angels following the Wise Men.

Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
Collection : Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris, France. Photograph : Agence photographique de la Réunion des musées nationaux
19th Century
Oil on canvas
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


It is said that reciting one thousand Hail Marys on December 24 would ensure obtaining a special favour. While preparing the "réveillon" for Christmas Eve, therefore, mothers would recite their one thousand Hail Marys without fail for they always had a small favour to ask the Virgin Mary on behalf of one of their children or their husband.
It is said that reciting one thousand Hail Marys on December 24 would ensure obtaining a special favour. While preparing the "réveillon" for Christmas Eve, therefore, mothers would recite their one thousand Hail Marys without fail for they always had a small favour to ask the Virgin Mary on behalf of one of their children or their husband.

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

Christmas Eve with its atmosphere of wonder offers infinite possibilities to people’s imagination. It was believed, for example, that during this magical night, sand on seashores, rocks on mountains, the oceans and valleys opened up in the light of the moon and the stars to reveal the rich treasures hidden in their depths: this is the revelation of hidden treasures.

It was also said that on the stroke of midnight, farm animals acquired the marvellous and unusual gift of speech. Oxen, cows, horses, pigs, and poultry began to speak to one another and to exchange strange secrets about humans, particularly their masters. Bad luck, the risk of being struck dumb or, worse still, even death came to those who tried to spy on them. This belief was prevalent not only in France but also in Francophone Canada. Another belief says that at midnight, farm cattle kneel in the stable to worship the Infant Jesus. It is clear that these two beliefs are closely linked to the even older one that Jesus was born at midnight.

In Canada, there is a belief that on Christmas Eve, the dead rise up from their graves and kneel at the foot of the cemetery cross where they are awaite Read More
Christmas Eve with its atmosphere of wonder offers infinite possibilities to people’s imagination. It was believed, for example, that during this magical night, sand on seashores, rocks on mountains, the oceans and valleys opened up in the light of the moon and the stars to reveal the rich treasures hidden in their depths: this is the revelation of hidden treasures.

It was also said that on the stroke of midnight, farm animals acquired the marvellous and unusual gift of speech. Oxen, cows, horses, pigs, and poultry began to speak to one another and to exchange strange secrets about humans, particularly their masters. Bad luck, the risk of being struck dumb or, worse still, even death came to those who tried to spy on them. This belief was prevalent not only in France but also in Francophone Canada. Another belief says that at midnight, farm cattle kneel in the stable to worship the Infant Jesus. It is clear that these two beliefs are closely linked to the even older one that Jesus was born at midnight.

In Canada, there is a belief that on Christmas Eve, the dead rise up from their graves and kneel at the foot of the cemetery cross where they are awaited by the previous parish priest wearing a white surplice and golden stole. The priest says the prayers for the Nativity aloud and the departed respond reverently. Once the mass is finished, the dead rise, look longingly at the village and the house where they were born, then silently return to their coffins.

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

Three figures of Père Noël (Santa Claus)

Three figures of père Noël (Santa Claus) which recall the Wise Men each carrying a bag of gold, guided by a star. Père Noël (Santa Claus) is often used by advertisers and has become the symbol of easy wealth and of holidays.

Savignac
Collection : Musée national des arts et traditions populaires, Paris, France
20th Century
Poster
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Animals kneeling at midnight

A legend told by her father, Joseph Laurent, inspired the artist to paint this picture.

Huguette Laurent
Collection privée
c. 1995
Oil on canvas
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


On Christmas Eve, young girls would resort to certain customs to try to discover the name or, at least the initials, of their future husbands. One of these customs involved melting lead and letting it run into cold water through a key ring. From the tracery formed by the metal, girls would try to guess the initials of their future husband, his profession, his personality or his looks.

A young girl might fill a bowl with water and let it freeze on a windowsill. On Christmas morning, she only had to look at the loops and whorls which had formed in the ice to discover her heart’s desire.

A third practice was to peel an apple being careful to keep the peel in a single continuous ribbon. Then the peel would be reformed as closely as possible to look like the original apple. The peel would then be thrown on the floor from above the girl’s head. She could then discover the initials of her future spouse from the design that the peel made on the floor.

In France, it was common to forecast the weather for the coming year by examining an ear of wheat on December 4, Saint Barbara’s Day, or the tops of onions filled with salt. The ashes in th Read More
On Christmas Eve, young girls would resort to certain customs to try to discover the name or, at least the initials, of their future husbands. One of these customs involved melting lead and letting it run into cold water through a key ring. From the tracery formed by the metal, girls would try to guess the initials of their future husband, his profession, his personality or his looks.

A young girl might fill a bowl with water and let it freeze on a windowsill. On Christmas morning, she only had to look at the loops and whorls which had formed in the ice to discover her heart’s desire.

A third practice was to peel an apple being careful to keep the peel in a single continuous ribbon. Then the peel would be reformed as closely as possible to look like the original apple. The peel would then be thrown on the floor from above the girl’s head. She could then discover the initials of her future spouse from the design that the peel made on the floor.

In France, it was common to forecast the weather for the coming year by examining an ear of wheat on December 4, Saint Barbara’s Day, or the tops of onions filled with salt. The ashes in the hearth from the Yule log protected the house all year long against natural catastrophes: storms, lightning, and fires. When soaked in water, they provided a cure for human and animal illnesses.

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

Cards like this were sent to young men who were not married by the age of 25 on the 25th of December

Cards like this were sent to young men who were not married by the age of 25 on the 25th of December. This tradition is similar to the one for girls linked to St Catherine. The caption says, Whoever receives this will be married within the year; on the back of the card is the Hope it brings you happiness.

MNATP
Collection : Musée national des arts et traditions populaires, Paris, France
20th Century
Stamped postcard on which a fabric cap is pasted.
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


In Provence, wheat is germinated on Saint Barbara's Day, December 4

In Provence, wheat is germinated on Saint Barbara's Day, December 4. The higher the wheat grows, the greater the prosperity. This object comes from the Museon Arlaten Christmas Eve festivities reconstruction.

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

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


The Druids considered the mistletoe to be a sacred plant and believed it had miraculous properties which could cure illnesses, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility and protect against the ill effects of witchcraft. Moreover, whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day. From this has seemingly come the ancient custom of hanging a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship and goodwill.

Another version, however, says that this custom, which was widespread among the Anglo-Saxons, was connected to the legend of Freya, goddess of love, beauty and fertility. According to legend, a man had to kiss any young girl who, without realizing it, found herself accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.

Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as in Canada. Thus if a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of Read More
The Druids considered the mistletoe to be a sacred plant and believed it had miraculous properties which could cure illnesses, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility and protect against the ill effects of witchcraft. Moreover, whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day. From this has seemingly come the ancient custom of hanging a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship and goodwill.

Another version, however, says that this custom, which was widespread among the Anglo-Saxons, was connected to the legend of Freya, goddess of love, beauty and fertility. According to legend, a man had to kiss any young girl who, without realizing it, found herself accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.

Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as in Canada. Thus if a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year’s Day: "Au gui l’An neuf" (Mistletoe for the New Year). Today, kisses can be exchanged under the mistletoe any time during the holiday season.

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

Another belief, that the devil dies at the very moment the Saviour of the world is born, was widespread in the United Kingdom. To remind the faithful of the "Devil’s funeral", the church’s great bell tolled the death knell an hour before the Midnight Mass. As soon as the clock finished striking twelve, all the church bells began to ring out joyously to announce the birth of the Messiah.
Another belief, that the devil dies at the very moment the Saviour of the world is born, was widespread in the United Kingdom. To remind the faithful of the "Devil’s funeral", the church’s great bell tolled the death knell an hour before the Midnight Mass. As soon as the clock finished striking twelve, all the church bells began to ring out joyously to announce the birth of the Messiah.

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

Many popular weather proverbs come in large measure from the observations of ordinary people who live close to nature every day.

The most widespread belief is that which matches the twelve months of the year to the twelve days which separate Christmas from Epiphany and which are called "les journaux" in Quebec: the prevailing temperature on each of these days is predicted to be the same for each of the months of the year to come. In Provence, these are called "jours compteurs", in Berry "éprouves", in Lorraine, "les petits mois" and in other regions of France, they are the "ajets".

Regarde comment sont menées
Depuis Noël douze journées
Car suivant ces douze jours
Les douze mois auront leur cours

Quand on a l’hiver avant Noël Read More

Many popular weather proverbs come in large measure from the observations of ordinary people who live close to nature every day.

The most widespread belief is that which matches the twelve months of the year to the twelve days which separate Christmas from Epiphany and which are called "les journaux" in Quebec: the prevailing temperature on each of these days is predicted to be the same for each of the months of the year to come. In Provence, these are called "jours compteurs", in Berry "éprouves", in Lorraine, "les petits mois" and in other regions of France, they are the "ajets".

Regarde comment sont menées
Depuis Noël douze journées
Car suivant ces douze jours
Les douze mois auront leur cours

Quand on a l’hiver avant Noël
On est sûr d’en avoir deux

Au jour de Noël
Les jours croissent d’un pas de colonel. 

À Noël,
Les jours rallongent d’un pas d’hirondelle
Aux Rois, d’un pas d’oie
Et à la Chandeleur, d’une heure

Quand à Noël, on se chauffe au soleil
Le jour de Pâques, on se chauffe à la bûche de Noël

Entre Noël et la Chandeleur
Plus de laboureur
(Adage du XVIe siècle)

Noël est plus beau aux champs qu’à la ville
(Adage du XVIe siècle)

Noël blanc, Pâques vertes
Noël vert, Pâques blanches

Noël porte l’hiver dans sa besace
S’il ne l’a pas devant, il l’a derrière

Quand on mange le gâteau au chaud (gâteau de Noël)
On mange les œufs derrière le fourneau (œufs de Pâques)


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

In France, the Christmas period could vary depending on the region and could stretch from the beginning of December to Candlemas. More often it meant the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany.

Depending on the region, this period could take on different names: Calendo in Provence, Chalende in Dauphiné, Nadal in Languedoc, Nan in Anjou, Poitou, Charente, Nedelec in Brittany, and the best known of all: Noël.
In France, the Christmas period could vary depending on the region and could stretch from the beginning of December to Candlemas. More often it meant the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany.

Depending on the region, this period could take on different names: Calendo in Provence, Chalende in Dauphiné, Nadal in Languedoc, Nan in Anjou, Poitou, Charente, Nedelec in Brittany, and the best known of all: Noël.

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

Calendar

Calendar

MNATP
Collection : Musée national des arts et traditions populaires (MNATP), Paris, France
c. 1843
Coloured reproduction from Boucquin, Paris
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Depending on the weather on the night of December 24, predictions on the quality of the coming harvest could be made.

Clair de lune à Noël,
Dans la cruche peu de miel,
Dans les champs, ni blé, ni orge.

Noël est-il venteux,
Il est beaucoup plus avantageux.
Beaucoup d’huîtres, de poissons,
Des fruits, du vin à foison,
Dans chaque saison.

Noël dans l’obscurité,
Dans les champs, avoine et blé. Read More

Depending on the weather on the night of December 24, predictions on the quality of the coming harvest could be made.

Clair de lune à Noël,
Dans la cruche peu de miel,
Dans les champs, ni blé, ni orge.

Noël est-il venteux,
Il est beaucoup plus avantageux.
Beaucoup d’huîtres, de poissons,
Des fruits, du vin à foison,
Dans chaque saison.

Noël dans l’obscurité,
Dans les champs, avoine et blé.

Temps clair, caves vides;
Temps noir, caves pleines.

Chemins noirs, granges claires;
Chemins clairs, granges noires.
Messe de minuit obscure
Récolte de fèves sûre

À  Noël grand vent
Aux arbres fruits abondants

Si, à Noël, les blés sont verts
Peu de pain pour le maître
Beaucoup de paille pour les bêtes

Quand les Avents de Noël sont fleuris
Il y aura abondance de fruits

Noël sans lune
De trois brebis il n’en reste qu’une


© 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 historical 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;
  • Identify their own culture’s beliefs and traditions within the greater context of time and space.

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