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Explore the Time-Honored Holiday Traditions in Canada

One of the best parts about visiting a country is the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new community. Learning more about the world and the people around you never goes out of style.. But, unfortunately, travelling the world at leisure is not a liberty we can all afford. However, thanks to the internet, we can explore the customs and unique holiday traditions in Canada without getting off the couch. 

With snow-covered trees, festive lights all around, and maple syrup glazed cinnamon buns. Canada seems like a magical place to be during the holiday season. This North American giant is a cultural mosaic that celebrates diversity in all its forms. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about holiday traditions in Canada. Read on to familiarize yourself with Canadian culture.

The beautiful snowy landscapes form part of the holiday traditions in Canada.

Understanding the Cultural Mosaic

Canada is a multicultural nation that has long welcomed people from across diverse cultures and nationalities. Although most Canadian holiday traditions may be influenced by European or native communities. Modern-day festivities are a melting pot of many different customs and cultures. In Toronto alone, more than 140 languages are spoken. 

Significance of Holiday Traditions in Canada

Holiday traditions in Canada are often marked by festive lights, boozy hot beverages and winter greenery. Most Canadians get in the holiday spirit right after Halloween. They start by decorating their home with Christmas trees, festive ornaments and oversized stockings on the fire mantle. 

There are some traditions that are synonymous with the holiday season and others that might seem a bit different! From Krampus-inspired festivals to chicken-bone-shaped candy, here are some holiday traditions in Canada. 

Major Canadian Holidays

Many (though not all) holiday traditions in Canada stem from those found in European countries. So, if you’re from France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Norway, or Ukraine—some of these festivities may be quite familiar.

Canadian Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving, celebrated on the second Monday of October, is a time for families and friends to come together and express gratitude for the harvest and other blessings of the past year. While it shares the same roots as American Thanksgiving, there are subtle differences in its traditions and cultural significance. Unlike its American counterpart, which is celebrated in November, Canadian Thanksgiving is more closely aligned with the end of the harvest season, reflecting Canada’s earlier harvest in the northern climate.

Traditional festivities include sharing a meal with loved ones, where turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie are often featured, mirroring the US’s menu. However, Canadian Thanksgiving is generally considered a quieter, more reflective holiday, with less emphasis on the large-scale parades and shopping frenzies seen in the United States. For those looking to send gifts to celebrate this heartfelt holiday, thoughtful choices include gourmet gift baskets featuring local Canadian delicacies, autumn-themed floral arrangements, or artisanal items that reflect the bounty and warmth of the harvest season. These gifts not only honor the spirit of Thanksgiving but also bridge the distances, bringing joy and gratitude to the forefront of this cherished occasion (read more about beloved fall traditions around the world on our blog>>)

Christmas Celebrations

You may not normally celebrate Christmas – and that’s OK! You don’t have to be religious to put up a Christmas tree or write a letter to Santa! In Canada, Christmas festivities are widely regarded as a secular holiday despite its Christian roots. 

Christmas day is celebrated on December 25 globally and is an official holiday in Canada. People around the world celebrate Christmas with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Popular traditions include exchanging Christmas gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending the midnight mass. Along with sharing meals with friends and family, and waiting for Santa Claus to arrive with gifts. 

Many Canadians open their gifts on Christmas Eve. Some will open the gifts from their stockings on Christmas Eve and save others for Christmas Day. 

Canadians celebrate Boxing Day on December 26. Boxing Day is famous for sales – similar to Black Friday in the U.S. On this day and even during the week, you can be sure to find good deals. Many Canadians leave home early in the morning and brave the cold to line up in long queues.

Hanukkah Festivities

Hanukkah dates back over 2,000 years and is considered a festival of lights. Although the date of Hanukkah is not fixed, it always falls in December. Hanukkah lasts for eight days and nine nights. After every sunset, family and friends gather to light a nine-branched candelabra with candles called a hanukkiah. A candle is lit each night, songs are sung, and prayers are said. After which everyone shares a traditional meal and exchanges Hanukkah presents.

Kwanzaa Observances

In 2018, Toronto dedicated the week between December 26 and January 1 as Kwanzaa week. A time when the African diaspora celebrates family, community and culture in Canada.


When the French emigrated to Canada, they brought a very tasty tradition with them. Réveillon is the festive dinner held after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The star of the show is the tourtiere, a savory spiced meat pie made with pork, beef, potatoes, and onion.

New Year’s Eve Traditions

The last major milestone of the December holiday season. New Year’s Eve, is a chance for Canadians to drink and party one final night before the year changes over. As the clock strikes 12, everyone loudly counts down the final few seconds, then kisses their romantic partner. Or in some cases, just a person who happens to be next to them.

A popular New Year’s Day tradition in Canada is the polar bear swim, which involves plunging into freezing waters in the name of charity. Proceeds from the event are donated to a number of local and national charities.

Lunar New Year

Canada has a large and growing Asian community that celebrates the Lunar New Year (also known as the Chinese New Year), which is a six-day event from January 28 to February 2. Traditional events include Asian cultural parades and food. 

Canada Day

Canada Day, celebrated on July 1st, marks the anniversary of the confederation of Canada, a day of national pride and celebration for Canadians. It commemorates the joining of the three colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada into a single country within the British Empire in 1867. This holiday is akin to Independence Day in the United States. Filled with fireworks, parades, barbecues, and concerts, embodying the spirit of national pride and unity. Red and white dominate the day’s attire and decorations, making any gift that sports these colors especially fitting.

For international friends and business partners looking to send their best wishes, consider Canadian-themed gifts that highlight the country’s heritage and natural beauty. Gifts such as maple syrup, Canadian wine, or items adorned with the iconic maple leaf. Another thoughtful gesture is to support local Canadian artisans by selecting handcrafted goods that celebrate it’s diverse culture and breathtaking landscapes. Sending such gifts for Canada Day not only shows appreciation for Canadian customs but also strengthens relationships by honoring the country’s most significant national holiday.

Sinck Tuck

In some provinces, the Inuit (natives or First Nations indigenous people of Canada) celebrate Sinck Tuck. This celebration consists of dancing and gift exchanging; it is linked to their winter solstice celebration. 

Indigenous Holiday Traditions in Canada

Indigenous Canadians are the original inhabitants of the land now known as Canada. They are a diverse group comprising First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, each with distinct cultures, languages, and traditions.

Their societies, cultures, and languages flourished before European colonization. Despite historical injustices, Indigenous Canadians have persevered and now play a vital role in shaping modern-day Canadian culture.

Indigenous Canadians have significantly enhanced the realms of arts, and literature, by bringing their unique stories and viewpoints to the forefront. Their valuable contributions are also increasingly recognized in fields such as education, healthcare, and politics.

Festive Events and Activities

From coast to coast, cities and towns come alive with dazzling parades, spectacular light shows, and enchanting holiday markets. These festive events and activities not only illuminate the chilly winter nights but also foster a sense of community and celebration, making them some of the most anticipated attractions of the year.

Light festivals are one of the most exciting holiday traditions in Canada.

The Santa Parade

In 1913, Santa Claus made his journey through the streets of Toronto, establishing a holiday tradition that has endured for over a century. Nowadays, the event has grown significantly, with Santa leading a parade of over two dozen elaborate floats. This annual spectacle attracts thousands of spectators to the streets and captures the attention of millions more through television broadcasts, cementing its status as a beloved seasonal tradition.

Mummers Festival: A Highlight of Holiday Traditions in Canada

In the heart of St. John, Newfoundland & Labrador, both locals and visitors come together for a series of events and workshops for the much-anticipated Mummers Parade. Participants wear elaborate and often whimsical costumes to conceal their identities, embarking on visits to the homes of friends and neighbors. The festival, running from November 25th to December 9th, not only celebrates a unique aspect of Canadian culture but also fosters a sense of community and shared joy during the holiday season.

Celebrating St. Catherine with a Traditional Taffy Pull

In the northern reaches of Canada, the traditional taffy pull stands as a unique and cherished event, celebrating St. Catherine, the patron saint of single women. This festive gathering involves marriageable women crafting delicious taffy, which is then presented as a gift to eligible bachelors.

Light Festivals

Some of the popular ones are the Winter Festival of Lights at Niagara Falls, the VanDusen Festival of Light in Vancouver, and the Aurora Winter Festival held in Vancouver and Toronto. 

Holiday Traditions in Canada: Festival of Lights at Niagara Falls

Traditional Holiday Foods

The holiday season is a time of warmth, joy, and, undoubtedly, delicious foods that hold a special place in the hearts and traditions of cultures around the world. From savory feasts that bring families together around the dining table to sweet treats that evoke memories of holidays past, traditional holiday foods are an integral part of holiday traditions.

Maple Syrup

In Canada, maple syrup is more than just a sweet topping; it’s a symbol of national pride. Harvested from the sap of sugar maple trees during the early spring, the production of maple syrup is a cherished tradition  that is rooted in connection with the natural landscape. Today, Canada is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup, with Quebec leading the charge, producing over two-thirds of the global supply. 

Barley Candy and Chicken Bones

The holidays aren’t complete without a large bag of Ganong Chicken Bones, a spicy cinnamon-flavored hard candy created in 1885 by Frank Sparhawk

This treat may have an odd name, but it’s actually a delightful combination. Barley candy is made from barley sugar and molded into a festive form such as a reindeer, Santa, or snowman. 


One of the many culinary gems to come out of French Canada, poutine has emerged as the definitive Canadian food. Several small towns in Quebec claim to have invented this celebrated dish (or side dish), and it’s said to date back to the 1950s. A real poutine uses peppery meat-based gravy and “squeaky” curds on fries. Any Canadian diner with fries on the menu will typically offer poutine, including big chains like McDonald’s.  If you’re up for a real celebration, there are also annual poutine festivals in cities across the country.


Christmas isn’t Christmas without the Danish butter cake called smorkage. It’s a heavenly combination of pastry and almond paste. 


Do not be alarmed — Canadians do not eat the tails of actual beavers. In Canada, beaver tails are giant, deep-fried sweet delicacies Essentially a flattened donut without a hole, BeaverTails are a quintessentially Canadian food. If you are a purist, you stick to a mix of sugar and cinnamon to be sprinkled on top, but there are other options like maple cream, cookies or chocolate spread.

Decorating Holiday Traditions in Canada

Snow-filled parks are one of the best parts of holiday traditions in Canada.

Decorating the Christmas tree

The Christmas tree is a key physical symbol of Christmas worldwide. It signifies life, longevity, light in the darkest time, and magical powers during the deepest winter. Most families in Canada will set up a Christmas tree at home and decorate it with various ornaments such as garlands, baubles, tinsel, and candy canes. 

Edible items such as gingerbread, chocolate and other sweets are also popular and are tied to or hung from the tree’s branches with ribbons. Gifts are placed at the foot of the Christmas tree.

In some communities, people just enjoy driving around to look at all the decorations that people have put outside on their lawns and around their houses. Some of these displays can be quite elaborate!

Christmas decorations in Toronto, Casa Loma castle

Writing letters to Santa

Did you know that the North Pole is in Canada? Each year, Santa Claus receives over a million letters from eager children across Canada and the globe. To make sure every child receives a response, more than 6,000 dedicated volunteers from Canada Post assist Santa in replying to each letter in its original language. 

To partake in this magical holiday tradition, children are encouraged to mail their letters to Santa before the annual deadline, using this special address.

Santa Claus

North Pole, Canada

H0H 0H0

Holiday traditions in Canada: Gift-Giving Customs

The holiday season is incomplete without shopping and gifts. Exchanging holiday cards and gifts is a tradition in Canada. Gift-giving customs in Canada are diverse and reflective of the country’s multicultural fabric, as well as its own unique traditions. Here are some notable customs:

Holiday Seasons: It’s common for Canadians to exchange gifts with family, friends, and colleagues for the holiday season. During Christmas, Secret Santa exchanges are popular in workplaces and among large families to make gift-giving more manageable and fun.

Personal Milestones: Personal milestones such as birthdays, weddings, graduations, and anniversaries are great opportunities to send gifts to Canada. Wedding gifts often include items for the new home or monetary gifts to support the couple’s future together.

Cultural Celebrations: Canada’s multicultural society means that gift-giving customs from around the world are observed. For example, during Chinese New Year, it’s customary to give red envelopes (hóngbāo) with money to children for luck and prosperity. Similarly, during Diwali, gifts such as sweets, dried fruits, or decorative items are exchanged among friends and family.

Canada-themed treats for Canada Day.

Popular Gift Ideas to Send to Canada

Sending gifts to Canada offers a wide array of choices that cater to the diverse interests of Canadians. Whether you’re looking for something uniquely Canadian or a universally appreciated gift, here are some popular ideas:

  • Canadian Specialties: Gifts that embody the Canadian spirit, such as maple syrup products, Canadian ice wine, or artisanal items from local Canadian artists, make for thoughtful and unique presents.
  • Gourmet Baskets: A gourmet gift basket filled with a selection of fine cheeses, artisan chocolates, and other delicacies is always well-received. Consider including Canadian brands or local specialties from your area.
  • Winter Gear: Given Canada’s cold climate, high-quality winter gear such as gloves, scarves, hats, or insulated travel mugs can be practical and appreciated gifts.
  • Books by Canadian Authors: For the book lover, consider sending works by celebrated Canadian authors like Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro.
  • Eco-Friendly Products: With a growing emphasis on sustainability, eco-friendly gifts such as reusable bags, bamboo utensils, or recyclable products are thoughtful choices.

You’ve learned about Holiday Traditions in Canada, so What’s Next?

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