Tuesday, January 01, 2008

French Canadian Christmas and New Years

Noël (Q) K-3

Noël (le 25 decembre)

Christmas is a Christian holiday familiar to most Canadian children. Though important in Francophone culture as well, the manner in which it is celebrated, the customs, and the traditions are sometimes very different. A very effective way to demonstrate cultural similarities and differences is to compare and contrast Christmas celebrations in France, Québec and British Columbia.

Christmas in France

Christmas in France is a family holiday, a religious festival, and a celebration for children. New Year's Day, however, is the time for the adult festival when gifts are exchanged and greeting calls made. Though traditions vary from one area of France to another, midnight mass, a very important aspect of the season, marks the beginning of the festivities. Young children do not accompany their parents to mass, but place their shoes by the fireside before going to bed. In the morning the shoes will be filled with sweets, fruits, and sometimes a toy from Père Noël (Father Christmas). After midnight mass, the rest of the family members return home to a grand celebration known as le réveillon. Foods vary according to the region if France. In Alsace, goose is traditionally served; in Brittany, buckwheat pancakes with sour cream; in Burgundy, turkey and chestnuts; in Paris, fried white sausages, cakes, candies and pancakes (in Paris, Christmas is less a religious and family festival and has become a time for dancing, fine dining and wines).

Old French legends say that on Christmas Eve animals throughout the countryside are given the power to speak and predict the future, but that they will not use this power if they know a human is listening. Ancient tradition, for its part, requires the burning of a bûche de Noël (Yule Log) on Christmas Eve. This tradition originates from the old belief that at the end of each year, as the days become shorter, the sun stays still for 12 days in a row. The Yule Log is supposed to be large enough to burn throughout this period to keep away bad luck. In areas where the tradition of the Yule Log has fallen into disuse, a cake shaped like a log is made to symbolize the Yule Log.

Christmas in Québec

In Québec, Christmas was traditionally a religious and social occasion, a time for large family gatherings and celebrations. Preparations began weeks in advance as food and presents were prepared. La guignolée was a very old custom practised in Québec organized by the parish priest. Several weeks before Christmas a group of men went to homes of the needy, announcing themselves with a large bell and distributing money, clothes and food collected from throughout the parish.

But the actual Christmas festivities began on Christmas Eve. People would go to great lengths to arrive at church for la messe de minuit (midnight mass), braving the cold and snow which made winter travel so difficult. After mass, great family gatherings would take place at one of the homes. In large French-Canadian families, as many as 60 or 70 people might sit down to the feast of le réveillon. Traditional foods served might include la tourtière (meat pie of pork and beef), le cipâte (a meat and vegetable casserole), roast goose, and desserts such as la bûche de Noël (yule log) or la tarte au sucre (sugar pie). The réveillons usually went on all night, so Christmas Day was spent sleeping. Christmas marked the beginning of le Temps de Fêtes, a holiday period of visiting and celebrating that ended on January 6 with la Fête des Rois (Epiphany).

Traditionally gifts were exchanged at New Year's; now gifts are often distributed after the Christmas meas by a family member dressed up as le Père Noël (Santa Claus). Though life in Québec has changed greatly since the days of the pioneers, many of the old customs are revived during the Christmas season.

Elementary French as a Second Language RESOURCE BOOK, British columbia Ministry of Education, 1984.


Tourtière (Meat Pie)

Tourtières were originally called tourtes de porc frais. These fresh pork pies were baked in pie pans called tourtières. Over the years, French Canadians came to apply the word tourtièe to the pie itself. It has long been a traditional dish at the réveillon that follows midnight mass on Christmas night.

1 9" double crust pie pastry
1 medium potato, cooked and mashed
1 lb. ground pork or pork and beef mixed (500 ml)
1/2 cup potato water (125 ml)
1 medium onioin, minced,
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt (2 ml)
1/2 tsp. thyme (2 ml)
1/2 - 1 tsp. sage (2-4 ml)
1/4 tsp. dry mustard (1 ml)
1/2 tsp. cloves

Combine pork, potato, water, onion, garlic, and seasonings in large saucepan. Bring to a boiling point then reduce heat and allow to simmer for 25 minutes, or until surplus liquid is reduced. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in mashed potato. Chill mixture.

Fill pastry-lined pan with the chilled meat mixture. Place top pastry over the filling. Bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake 20 minutes longer or until crust is golden. Serve hot with chili sauce.

La Bûche de Noël (Yule Log)

1 cup all purpose flour (250 ml)
1/4 cup cocoa (60 ml)
1 tsp. baking powder (4 ml)
1/4 tsp. salt (1 ml)
3 eggs
1 cup sugar (250 ml)
1/3 cup water (80 ml)
1 tsp. vanilla (4 ml)

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Beat eggs in a small bowl until thick and lemon-coloured. Gradually beat in sugar. Stir in water and vanilla. blend in flour mixture at the lowest speed on your mixer. spread batter in greased and waxed paper lined 15 x 10 x 1 inch jelly roll pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for 12 minutes. Invert cake immediately onto a tea towel dusted with cocoa powder, peel paper. Cool on wire rack, seam side down. Unroll to fill and frost with Cocoa Cream icing. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours before serving. Store leftover cake in refrigerator. This recipe is for one cake.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My grandmother (memere) used to leave us treats on new years day from "le vieux homme janvier" or some such - old man january. I am wanting to learn more about this tradition but cannot find any information. Can you help?