Christmas Foods – A Canadian Tradition

No matter where you come from, you’ll have certain foods that remind you of special times in your life... like holidays.

If you were born in Canada, you probably think of Christmas when you hear the words “food” and “holiday” together. Traditionally, Christmas is Canada’s biggest feast-day. Whether it’s celebrated for its religious roots or as a secular (non-religious) holiday, Christmas carries delicious traditions.

Of course, many of them came here from other countries. Immigrants from Britain and Europe brought their religious holiday traditions with them when they settled in Canada. They celebrated Christmas with special dishes handed down for generations in their families. And sometimes they had to change some of their recipes to suit the supplies that were available, changing the European tradition to a Canadian one.

Christmas cookies are an example. Shortbreads from Scotland, the Armenian invention called gingerbread, spice cookies brought by Moravian-Americans, florentines from Italy, brandy snaps from England, chocolate meringues from France, and Nanaimo bars from the Canadian province of British Columbia… they all taste like Christmas, because we’ve claimed them for our own.

Then there is eggnog. A drink from Medieval England, it's now available in Canadian grocery stores every fall and winter. You can drink it as it is, sprinkle ground nutmeg on top, or stir in some rum or brandy. It’s also delicious in tea or coffee, or as an ingredient in eggnog-flavoured Christmas cookies!

We can't forget tourtière. A savory, spiced French-Canadian meat pie, it was originally made with passenger pigeon meat. Those birds were so delicious, and defenseless, that they're extinct now; people didn't understand about preserving endangered species in the old days. Today people still enjoy tourtière, made with pork, beef or veal, as a Christmas Eve tradition, and you don't have to be in Québec to love it.

Canadians enjoy many other Christmas treats – candy-canes, mince tarts, Yule-log cakes, hot spiced cider, mulled wine, Christmas cake filled with candies fruit, plum puddings that you douse with brandy and set on fire. But the centrepiece of the holiday is Christmas dinner.

That means a turkey, or sometimes a goose, roasted to golden-brown perfection, with dressing (stuffing) cooked either inside the bird or in a separate baking dish. Every family seems to have their favourite dressing recipe, but even the boxed ones from the grocery store are pretty good. For vegetables, mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, squash, sweet potato, turnips - mixed and matched, depending on tastes. Serve cranberry sauce on the side, and cover everything with rich gravy from the roasted bird... then enjoy all kinds of Christmas treats for dessert. It’s a meal to set you dreaming all the year through.

These traditions came from our country’s first settlers. But recent immigrants have added even more wonderful foods to Canada’s Christmas table. Tandoori chicken from India, Ethiopian potatoes and cabbage (tikil gomen), black cake or great cake from the West Indies, Chinese moon-cakes and fried dumplings filled with pork and peas... all these and many more are finding their way into Canada’s Christmas food-memory.

If you think about it, our country has always been about bringing different parts of the world together. This holiday season, we at Canadian Newcomer and Settlement Roadmap wish you all the joy and happiness of the religious and secular holidays you celebrate... and a Merry Christmas, as you celebrate Canada’s delicious heritage.

This story is from the "For the Love of Food" InfoBlock. To read more stories on this topic, click here.