I spent my first Christmas in Canada on a farm in a remote village in Québec called Padoue.
I was guaranteed a white Christmas, as the snow had lain thick on the ground since November, and outdoor ice rinks were everywhere, made simply by packing snow, flooding the surface with water, and allowing it to freeze. The farmer’s wife had been busy making home-made chocolates and pies, and I couldn’t wait to see what a French-Canadian Christmas Dinner would be like!
The celebrations began late on Christmas Eve when the family drove through the finely falling snow to church for the Messe de Minuit (midnight mass). I was moved when the choir and congregation sang the traditional hymns O Nuit de Paix (Silent Night) and Minuit Chrétiens (O Holy Night). After the mass, we returned to the farm for the traditional midnight meal, the Réveillon, the name coming from the word réveil, meaning ‘waking’, because you have to stay awake late to participate!
The table was laden with food quite different from the roast dinner I was used to in England. The centrepiece was the tourtière, a large pie made from minced pork, beef and veal, unusually seasoned with cinnamon. It was like a delicious spicy pork pie. It was served with home-made pickles and relishes, including a chunky green ketchup. There was also a ragoût aux pattes de cochon, a stew made from pig hocks. For dessert, there was the grand Bûche, a Yule log, and some tarte au sucre and tarte à l’érable (sugar pie and maple pie). This was quite a contrast to our English rich fruit Christmas cake and mince pies, but I tucked in and enjoyed it.
While the family had been at the mass, le Père Noël (Father Christmas) had paid a visit to leave presents, so after dinner, these were opened by the eager but sleepy children. Finally, the family retired to bed, and woke late on Christmas Day. I found it strange that all the action took place on Christmas Eve, as I was used to going to bed early on Christmas Eve, and getting up early on Christmas morning to open presents, but it had been lovely to hear those carols sung out at midnight mass.
On New Year’s Eve, we all gathered around the television for the Bye-Bye, a very popular show which looks back at the year’s events in a humorous way and features all the stars of shows enjoyed throughout the year doing skits. I remember laughing when a singer changed the words of Francis Cabrel’s Je l’aime à mourir from “She must have fought all the wars to be as strong as she is today” to “She must have fought all the wars to be as ugly as she is today”! And the two stars of the romantic drama Les Filles de Caleb came on the show and kissed, to the uproarious applause of the audience.
On the morning of New Year’s Day, the father of the family gathered the children together and they knelt as he gave them a blessing and wished them Bonne Année (Happy New Year).
It was a magical Christmas that year in Québec and I will never forget it. I would like to wish everyone un très joyeux Noël!