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Christmas in the USA and Canada

Celebrations of Christmas in the United States and Canada

There are many Christmas traditions and celebrations in the United States and Canada, most of which were brought by German and English immigrants. Both Germany and England are countries where many of our popular Christmas traditions have originated.


Some of the well-known and practised Christmas traditions brought by these immigrants include: brightly decorated Christmas tree, Advent calendars, Christmas greeting cards, gingerbread houses, and gingerbread cookies.

Richly decorated gingerbread house
One of the enduring Christmas traditions is gingerbread house,
providing a true feast of Christmas sweets.

Christmas in the United States

Today Christmas in the United States can be seen as focused around family, travel, shopping and decorations. Being a large country, family and travel go together in the US because family members often have to travel fairly long distances to be with each other at one location during Christmas.

Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, NY
The Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree, in New York City, is one of the most famous festive season features in the USA.

The growth of US cities that have primarily economic activity, suburbs for residences, as well as the fact of different industries being found in certain geographic locations, are among the reasons that family members often live great distances from each other in separate states.

Christmas and its festivities therefore present a wonderful opportunity for many members of the family to gather in celebration and see each other in an intimate setting. The traveling involved makes the Christmas season a busy time of the year for rail and air travel in the United States.

Shopping is an important feature of Christmas in the United States, owing to the occasion of seeing many family members at Christmas. The Christmas season officially begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday and which now ranks second in shopping for a single day to the Saturday before Christmas.

With family Christmas get togethers, much of the shopping is done to purchase gifts for friends and family. Gifts for family members are usually exchanged after dinner on Christmas day, when everyone gathers in the room with the Christmas tree. Gifts are usually left at the base of the Christmas tree in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day.

Christmas decorations on a house in the US
In the United States homes and houses often get richly decorated
during the Christmas period.

Gifts may also exchanged before Christmas at parties held by friends and parties held at workplaces.

Shopping is also done at Christmas for decorations, which is only second to gifts. While the Christmas tree may be the centerpiece of attraction, garlands, wreaths, candles and decorative lighting placed outside on lawns or along rooflines are also used to create a beautiful holiday appearance for homes.

Christmas in Canada

Canadians enjoy Christmas activities that are similar to those celebrated in the United States. That is so because in the 1700s when some German immigrants in the United States migrated to Canada, they continued to practice many of the activities associated with Christmas.

The geographical proximity of the two countries and common language also means they share many things, so similarities in Christmas traditions wouldn't be an exception. There are however some small differences between Christmas traditions and celebrations in Canada and the United States.

One thing that accounts for the difference between the two countries is the Eskimo population in Canada. Eskimos in Canada celebrate a festival during winter and have other traditions that are absent from American Christmas celebrations.

Christmas decorations on a house in Canada
There are many similarities and also some small differences
how Christmas is celebrated in Canada and the United States.

A practice also exists in Nova Scotia in which small groups of masked individuals march around about two weeks before Christmas. These masked groups attract attention by creating stir with much bell ringing and engaging in a noisy caper in an aim to get candy, sweets and goodies from onlookers.

This tradition bears some similarity to Jonkonoo celebrations in the neighboring islands of the Caribbean. Those celebrations also involve masked individuals, including some that appear on stilts that make them as tall as trees. The parade of Jonkonoo regale onlookers with various antics and present a minor scare to some children, who are then calmed with candies and other treats.

In Nova Scotia, onlookers can try to calm the noise and rowdiness just a little if they can correctly guess the identity of the masked person. A correct guess puts an end to the noise as the mask is removed, exposing the individual. For their part, maskers also play nice by friendly nudging answers from children about whether they have been naughty or nice and handing out candies and treats accordingly.

This Christmas tradition bears resemblance to the St. Nicholas Day in Germany, when Santa visits the homes of boys and girls. See our Christmas around the World article.

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