Memories of a French Canadian Christmas

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I was writing a short note in a Christmas card I was sending to an elderly aunt who is not computer-literate and had to look up the word “reveillon” to ensure I had spelt it correctly. Doing this brought me to some articles on this topic and reading them brought back a flood of memories about my French Canadian Christmas traditions.

In French, “reveiller” means to wake up. In times gone by, the Catholic Church expected its members to be at church as the clock struck midnight on Christmas Day. My tiny home town in Saskatchewan had a huge church, capable of sitting a thousand people and on Christmas Eve, it was full. My mother sang in the choir, and because the choir sat above and behind the congregation, one year I was allowed to sit with the choir. It was a magical experience, sitting there and hearing my mom sing. Today, I keep up the tradition by also singing in a choir on Christmas Eve.

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Once mass was done, it was time to return home and wake up my brothers and sister. Yes, at 1:30 in the morning. Sleepy-headed though we were, we were also excited because Santa had been at our house. We were allowed to open one gift then we got dressed and went to my maternal grandparents place for tourtiere (meat pie) and other goodies. Of course Santa had been there as well – but how would he know we would be there?? A mystery that was never solved…

 

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Some years, we were bundled up again and went to visit my Dad’s brother and his family. By then, our stomachs were full and we were sleepy. One memory that my siblings share and remember fondly was snuggling up on a bed full of fur coats – when women still wore full length fur coats. It was heaven…sigh.

Later on, we headed home. It was usually around 4 or 5 AM by then. We all went to bed, sleeping late into the morning, except my Mom who had to wake up early to put the large turkey in the oven to ensure it would be well cooked by dinner time.

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This tradition played out for years and these memories are some of the most special in my childhood. What are some of your special memories around Christmas?

6 responses to “Memories of a French Canadian Christmas

  1. Hi Johanne. My Christmas was very close to yours, my mother being French Canadian also. We went to midnight mass, then opened presents at home, followed by a huge! meal. All went to bed, and only my poor mom had to rise at the crack of dawn to ready a turkey that was usually about 25 pounds. One year, her Christmas was extra complicated… she cooked that turkey, and then went to hospital to deliver a healthy baby girl, on Boxing Day. (Yes, me.) I just hope she got out of the dishes, as she already had four other children, and always hosted a houseful of aunties, uncles and cousins at Christmas. (Humbly, of course) I like to think she got the best Christmas present of all that year, even if it was a day late!

    • What a great story! And yes, the experience was very similar to mine. It’s interesting how we, as children, survived being woken up in the middle of the night and lived to tell about it! I’m rather saddened by the fact that traditions such as these are being lost.

  2. Enjoyed reading your story. Lovely picture of Your? Dinning room. Boxing Day the family went to Grandma’s and had that same pile of coats! Up the skinny stairs under the dresser was a box of hairless, naked dolls that eventually started my collection of antique bisque dolls.

    • What a wonderful memory! Yes the picture was of the dining room of our previous 1912 house. Old houses were meant for “over the top” Christmas decorating and I miss that at this time of year…

    • You are right. She made a big turkey dinner to which many relatives were invited. My dad helped to host and kept us out of the kitchen, except when I became old enough to help, but still, this was expected of her every year – it was tradition. But she took great pride in her cooking.

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