Good evening all. Merry [late] Christmas and Happy [also late] New Year! Or, er, I mean Joyeuses Fêtes ! I hope that your holidays have been all that you were hoping. This year, as I mentioned in the previous post, marks our second holiday season in Québec. Last year, we had a good time, trying our own hand at making a bûche de Noël (yule log) for Christmas day and dancing in the New Year at Montreal’s Old Port.
Since last year, I’ve gotten to know much more about Québec and the holiday traditions. That is not to say that we have been able to partake in all of these traditions, but you know I do my best, right? Also, clearly having only been here a year and a half makes me no expert. Still I’d like to share a bit about our holidays with you.
Comparatively speaking, the traditions here are not so different from what we are used to, but there are many things that are new to us as well. The first main difference you might notice as person from the U.S. is that since Thanksgiving is in early October here (and really not very important at all–people are just thankful for the day off), there is no “Respect the Turkey” campaign. By that I mean that the Christmas carols, the egg nog and gingerbread lattés, and the Christmas lights arrive in early/mid-November in force.
And although Thanksgiving isn’t in November, the concept of Black Friday (vendredi noir) is beginning to catch on here. No, it’s nowhere near as crazy. Traditionally, it doesn’t exist here, but as the shopping day fiasco was starting to draw Quebecois shoppers across the border, stores have needed to compete by offering some large discounts near home. Now, at first thought, this seems like a shame, right? I mean, I apologize sincerely to anyone I offend here (I know there are many out there who see Black Friday as a shopping day for family bonding), but I am not on board. I prefer slipping in a morning of deer hunting before snacking on Thanksgiving leftovers and putting up the Christmas tree with family members. And because I take my baking a bit seriously as of late, I also see Black Friday as the day when I prepare oodles of cookies for the upcoming parties. But after talking with people here, I understand why it isn’t as sad to lose in the battle against Black Friday. The day after
Thanksgiving just another Thursday, never really held significance to begin with. Yes, you can still argue that the over emphasis on the commercialization of Christmas is a problem…I’ll grant you that.
Aside from the season seeming to start a bit earlier than in the States, the holiday season continues on in a very similar fashion to what you might expect. The Catholic Churches will offer Christmas concerts, the [newly-opened] Target will play Mariah Carey throughout the store, the snow will fall…and fall….and fall again. The shopping crowd picks up tempo up until the 24, and all of your favorite cafés will offer holiday versions of your favorite caffeinated beverages.
I really did enjoy having reasons to traipse around some of the larger office buildings in the downtown area (for work). If you’re into holiday decorations, it’s worth popping into some of these places (you can avoid the cold for the most part if you use the underground network) to view the huge illuminated wicker bells and [sometimes tasteful, sometimes hilariously tactless] electronic garlands.
Speaking of decorations, we have made it a [two-year] tradition, to make an early December trip to visit Place des Arts to stroll through the Luminothérapie installations with an egg nog latté in hand. They are installed in mid-December and let you pretend that you enjoy the snow. By the way, when ordering that egg nog latté here, be sure to giggle at the name you use when ordering it: latté au lait de poule (literally translates as hen’s milk latté). Love it!
I assure that I was back since the snow has fallen (but just haven’t been back with camera in hand).–>
Although for the most part you will hear the same Christmas carol melodies you’ve heard all of your life, you won’t necessarily be able to sing along. Often, with newer songs [of the Santa Baby ilk], the lyrics will be in English, but with more traditional songs, like Jingle Bells and Oh, Christmas Tree, the lyrics you’ll hear will often be in French. This is even true for I Saw Mama Kissin’ Santa Claus, otherwise known as J’ai vu maman embrasser le père Noël. Have a listen to these French version of the two aforementioned carols.
Personally, watching Christmas movies is one of my favorite parts of the season. Jordan’s completely against watching Home Alone and/or Elf one more time. Thankfully, my students were not! I’ve done some asking around for any Quebecois Christmas movie suggestions. Generally, people mention Mon Oncle Antoine (My Uncle Antoine), a classic even when not in the mood for a Christmas movie and La Guerre des Tuques (The Dog that Stopped the War). The first two can be found on YouTube…not sure how long that will last since I’m sure it’s against copyright, but still fun for me. Unfortunately, no subtitles, so you’ll probably want to understand un petit peu de français to enjoy them. Or rent them from iTunes–you can typically find them with subtitles there.
As shocking as this may be (sarcasm, indeed), Québec doesn’t play along with ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas, but this doesn’t mean that there are not plenty of Christmas-programming-filled airwaves in December. The cake-taker is Télé-Québec’s Ciné-Cadeau filled with some of the classics, such as Astérix et Obélix (which I’ll admit was new to me this year…you should have seen all the jaws I made drop in disbelief...but Cassandra?!, it’s been translated into over 60 languages, why haven’t you seen it?!) and Les Aventures de TinTin. When I ask (only for the sake of making English conversation, of course) what I should be watching during December, most students simply reply with Ciné-Cadeau. That said, Radio-Canada (Ciné-fête) does a nice job playing a mix of dubbed movies like A Christmas Carol and The Father of the Bride along with French-language films during the break to keep all little French-learners like yours truly happy while off from classes.
Our work holiday parties, and those I’ve heard about through my students, seem to fall in line with what I would expect from typical holiday parties in the States. Generally, the classier the place you work, the classier the party. Co-workers sometimes have department parties, as well as larger parties for the whole office/company. Secret Santa exchanges and small office gift exchanges are commonplace.
As for my workplace, we had a small, low-key party in the conference room. The room averaged about .3 alcoholic drinks per person (it was an afternoon party), but the variety of foods (teachers coming from various backgrounds!) was a good showing for the number of people in attendance. I made some homemade black bread (left over molasses!) and took a few dips along. I’ve got to mention that I won a gift certificate for two movies tickets, one popcorn, and two sodas at the theatre. Not sure when the last time I bothered getting popcorn at the theatre was (it’s sooo overpriced), so it was nice treat. More touching, though, were the impromptu party thrown by one of my classes (complete with pistachio croissants from Arhoma!) and the gifts of tea (with mini pieces of candy cane!) and chocolates I received from students.
Jordan’s McGill department party (for students, faculty, and staff) was a bit classier, requiring some dressing up and the ability to hold your wine glass and eat fancy hors d’oeuvres at the same time. The food was good, and I made a point to sample a few of the bûches de Noël instead of committing to only one regular-sized piece.
Also during December, you’ll start to see Santa Claus (le père Noël) around the shopping centers. And I honestly have no idea why she is there, but next to him there will be la fée des étoiles, or the Fairy of the Stars. Everyone I’ve talked to just seems to accept that that is who she is, but couldn’t tell me the reason. Any readers have any insight? Parents have suggested it’s just a female figure there to help handle those babies who are afraid of le père Noël. Also, since we’re talking about Santa, as you might have read in a previous post, that Elf on the Shelf craze has also swept Québec. I think it’s around for a good while now….
Finally, we almost reach Christmas!
Because of Québec’s Catholic history, the midnight mass has been traditionally important. Attendance, however, along with general church attendance is diminishing. That said, Christmas Eve is much more important than actual Christmas Day. Many people have shared with me that Christmas Day seems like a bit of a let down, because after such a fun night, the day seems too calm and uneventful for being the actual holiday. Interesting, since although my extended family Christmas is Christmas Eve, “the big event” was always Christmas Day for us.
Christmas Eve is when families gather together for the réveillon, or the Christmas meal. Gifts are usually placed around l’arbre de Noël, passed out, and opened after the meal. Gifts tend to be similar to what you’d expect, with stockings factoring in as well. Years ago, just as it was for those of us in the northern U.S., fresh fruits like oranges and pears served as gifts.
But wait, let’s go back to meal. Because you knew I would! Want are the Québecois eating for their réveillon? Good question. Traditions vary from family to family, and many people make breaks from the standard traditions to form their own. However, you’re still likely to find many people gathered around traditional foods such as the tourtière, fruitcakes (people have assured my homemade ones can be outstanding…still too skeptical to invest my time in making it, but maybe next year), turkey, those aforementioned yule logs, sucre à la crème (like a chocolate-less fudge), les tartes au sucre (sugar pies, I kid you not….think brown sugar, maple syrup, and 35% creme), and pigs foot stew.
When considering a tourtière, be aware that there are several versions. I stook a stab at one when my parents came, but aside from that have never actually had one. In case any one is interested, I opted for the Lac-Saint-Jean variety. I’ve done worse, I’ve done worse. But the broth did escape more than I’d hoped…
Of note, I’ve heard many people reference the mass-produced, store-bought yule logs/cakes made by Vachon. And not in the good way. It looks to be the Little Debbie of yule logs. And one of my students said they’ve been interdites at her family’s Christmas. Plus jamais !
This year, since we found ourselves family-less (apart from each other), we joined a few other “Christmas orphans” on Christmas Eve to celebrate. The hostess, a French woman, admitted at the meal that she was intimidated to prepare turkey for two people from the United States. I told her not to worry, since I’d only done it once myself, to which she replied, “Maybe you’ve only made it once, but you’ve eaten it much more than that!” True, true. Honestly, though, our friend and her lovely assistant did a great job with the turkey, the stuffing, and the cranberry sauce. We contributed a spinach, sweet potato, feta, and cranberry salad, a mushroom and cheese galette, more of my homemade brown bread, and a small loaf of sourdough made from our
wild yeast baby own starter.
Our Christmas Day was passed calmly thanks to a baked brie, our Netflix subscription, and a lot of that tea.
The weather on Boxing Day was quite mild, so we decided to go out for a stroll in Old Montreal. (I may have had to pick Jordan up at the lab before we went there). Last year, we tried to wrap our minds around what Boxing Day actually is. Everyone spouts the sales and savings at the stores the day after Christmas, both in store and online. (Online sales referenced in the most recent episode of Les Parents, also discusses traditional food). That’s fine, but it was nice to hear someone describe his personal [not-strictly commercialized] version of the holiday. The man, who is now quite successful, came from more humble beginnings. He said that while growing up, he typically received some fruit and maybe a new hat on Christmas Eve, but his parents could only afford to buy them a toy on Boxing Day. His parents went out shopping for his siblings and him, and they were able to open these gifts on New Year’s Day. Stories like this aren’t always highlighted in your standard Wikipedia versions, which reference the feudal period in England and then the modern-day sales.
Last year, I ventured out to buy a pair off of half-off pants. This year, I realized many sales last until the 2nd or 3rd, and simply snapped a picture of the Boxing Day crowd on St. Catherine (the main shopping thoroughfare in Montréal) as we crossed on our way to the older part of town.
We had a nice walk, camera in [mostly my] hand. We were not the only people playing, or actually being, tourists.
And folks, we’re getting there. Almost to the end of this holiday season. What’s left?
In my experience, it seems that New Year’s Eve is typically spent with friends (family sometimes, too, but hey, we’re in our 20s/30s and are not around our family), New Year’s Day being a bit more for your family. More food, of course.
As you know, last year we headed to the Old Port, shouted Bonne Année with a few hundred (two thousand?) of our closest friends, and danced a bit–to stay warm, not because we like dancing. There’s hugging and there’s kissing. And then there’s more [but friendly] kissing, because that’s what French Canadians do. Last year, we simply wished people Bonne Année, which has always sufficed for me, my family, and most of my friends. This year, we hosted one friend over for an Indian meal, then went to a small (about 10 people) and cozy (at a friend’s place) gathering, ate a few hors d’oeuvres, discussed what exactly library science consists of, learned that you shouldn’t mentioned chemistry to physicists, and also learned that typically there’s a bit more fanfare in wishing Happy New Year in the French Canadian way. Yeah, I really should have remembered this when sending an email to a conversation partner a day later–my simply and short bonne année felt a bit cold and mean compared to the warm Je te souhaite beaucoup d’amour, d’amitié, de santé et de la prospérité ! (I wish you much love, friendship, health, and prosperity!) I received in return. I promise, I’m not mean, I’m just anglo and unaware.
Another expression I learned from a friend and tried to text to another U.S.er in Montreal is Bonne Année Grande Nez ! while hoping she’d respond with Paraillement grandes dents ! Unfortunately, the cell phone network was a wee bit busy and kept rejecting my messages. Promise friends, I tried to text back!
And the last thing that I truly must mention is Bye Bye. It’s a given in Québec. You might not watch it right at midnight (because hey, there is the internet now), but you’re going to watch it. All my students talk about it, and even Jordan knows about it (sorry, Jordan….) Now, quite honestly, I find the concept genius. Every year, Radio-Canada produces a satirical (think SNLish) summary of the province’s highlights and lowlights. Purists or long-time viewers may tell you it’s been better in the past, but I’d still gladly tune in to watch something like that over Carson Daley (or wait, Ryan Seacrest?) watching the ball drop in NYC. Okay, so Judge Sotomayor actually would have been a draw for me.
Anyway, I learned about it last year, watched it on tou.tv even though my French was almost laughable at that point and I had only seen glimpses of Québec’s news for the first nine months of the year. Still, I understood enough to catch a few things and to ask questions to other people afterward. Yes, I already watched this year’s…be sure you watch an Astérix et Obélix clip or two beforehand 😀
Thanks, pals, for sticking around until the end of this epic-length post. I do truly wish you and yours lots of love, friendship, health, and prosperity in 2014. Otherwise said: Happy New Year.