Skip to content

T'is the season for Santa Claus parades, butter tarts, and... mummering? These are some Christmas traditions in Canada that spark joy around this time of year when many newcomers, like you, may be feeling homesick or lonely.

It’s normal to miss home around the holidays. So, while you embrace Canadian traditions this holiday season, be sure to bring a bit of home in what you do. Try cooking something that reminds you of home or watching your favourite holiday movie—and be sure to call your loved ones!

Maybe you don’t normally celebrate Christmas—and that’s totally OK! In Canada, Christmas is widely regarded as a secular holiday despite its roots in Christianity—you don’t have to be religious to put up a Christmas tree or write a letter to Santa.

In fact, 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 the festivities may be quite familiar.

While no two Christmases look alike, you might find different regions in Canada adopt traditions that are unique to their location. However, there are some holiday traditions that most of the country shares, for example:

Advertisement

Canada-wide Christmas traditions

Decorating

Although the appropriate time to start decorating your house for Xmas is up for debate (i.e. is it OK before Remembrance Day?), many people start as early as November—or even just after Halloween.

You can put up a Christmas tree with decorations and lights, hang a wreath outside your door, and put up stockings for everyone in the household—just to give a few examples.

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!

Writing letters to Santa

Did you know the North Pole is in Canada?

Every year, Canada Post sends Santa Claus more than a million letters from children in Canada and around the world. More than 6,000 Canada Post volunteers help Santa reply to every letter in the language it was written.

You can send a letter to Santa every year before the deadline to the following address (no postage stamp required):

Santa Claus
North Pole, Canada,
H0H 0H0

Check the Canada Post website for more information.

Giving gifts

Canadians spend hundreds of dollars per year on Christmas gifts. The Retail Council of Canada does a survey every year of how much Canadians are expecting to spend. In 2023, it was up to an average of $898 CAD!

Although, not everyone can spend that much on Christmas presents and unless it’s family it’s not oftentimes expected. Friends or co-workers may do a gift exchange with a maximum price limit. Family and lovers may offer each other more pricy gifts.

Here are some fun gift exchange games you can play with your friends, roommates, or co-workers

  • Secret Santa: All participants names (and sometimes their wishlists) are placed in a hat and mixed up. Each person chooses a name from the hat, and doesn’t tell the others who they picked. They then buy a gift for the person they picked. They wrap the gift and label it with the recipients name but do not put their own (afterall, it’s “Secret” Santa.) On the day of the exchange, all presents are placed in a pile and the giftees retrieve their present. They then try to guess who their Secret Santa is.
  • White Elephant/Dirty Santa/Grinch Game: A bit like Secret Santa, all participants buy a gift and place it in a pile. Everyone then picks a number, which decides the order in which people get to choose a gift from the pile. One-by-one, participants choose a gift and open it in front of everyone. Then the person who goes next can either steal that gift or pick a new one from the pile. If they do steal a gift from a participant who has gone before them, that person gets to choose a new gift from the pile or steal a gift from someone else. In this game, it’s said that the person who goes last has the advantage, as they can see all but one of the gifts unwrapped and have the chance to steal from anyone.

In general, handmade gifts and consumables go a long way. You may find that it’s not how much you spend on a gift, but the thought put into it that really counts.

For more region-specific traditions, browse the rest of this page for fun holiday activities to beat homesickness and make the most of the season. You’ll also find a recipe for traditional Canadian butter tarts at the end!

British Columbia (BC)

Festival of Lights: Vancouver’s Bright Nights in Stanley Park showcases dazzling light displays, often accompanied by a miniature train ride.

Polar Bear Swims: Around Christmas and New Years, some communities, like Vancouver and Victoria, have a tradition of polar bear swims where brave souls take a plunge into frigid waters.

Alberta

Festival of Trees: Edmonton hosts a Festival of Trees, displaying creatively decorated Christmas trees to raise funds for charity.
Christmas Markets: Calgary and Edmonton often have traditional Christmas markets offering festive treats and crafts.

Saskatchewan

Wanuskewin Winter Solstice: Celebrations at Wanuskewin Heritage Park near Saskatoon often include Indigenous traditions, storytelling, and cultural performances.
Outdoor Ice Skating: Many communities have outdoor ice skating rinks that become popular spots during the holiday season.

Manitoba

Holiday Lights at the Forks: Winnipeg’s Forks National Historic Site features stunning light displays, seasonal activities, and entertainment.
Ukrainian Christmas Traditions: With a significant Ukrainian community, there’s a rich celebration of Ukrainian Christmas traditions like the Feast of Jordan (Malanka) and Ukrainian caroling (Koliada).

Ontario

Toronto Santa Claus Parade: This iconic parade kicks off the holiday season in Toronto, attracting thousands of spectators.
Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights: Niagara Falls transforms with millions of twinkling lights and displays along the Niagara Parkway.

Quebec:

Réveillon: Quebec’s traditional Christmas Eve feast, Réveillon, includes festive dishes like tourtière (meat pie) and buche de Noël (Yule log cake).
Les Marchés de Noël: Montreal and Quebec City host charming Christmas markets with artisans, local crafts, and culinary delights.

New Brunswick

Christmas at Kings Landing: This historic village hosts Victorian-era Christmas celebrations, complete with traditional decorations, caroling, and activities.
Lobster for Christmas: Some families opt for lobster as a special Christmas meal due to the abundance of this seafood in the region. In fact, in St. Andrews they have put up a lobster-trap Christmas tree since 2016.

Nova Scotia

Lunenburg Christmas Craft Festival: The town of Lunenburg—considered the Balsam Fir Christmas Tree Capital of the World— hosts a festive Christmas market and events celebrating maritime traditions. You’ll also find lobster-trap Christmas trees in Nova Scotia.
Belsnickling: Brought over by German immigrants, Belsnicklers dress in costumes and go through the town from house to house. If their neighbours guess their identity, the Belsnickler gets to eat some cake or cookies.

Prince Edward Island (PEI)

Charlottetown Christmas Festival: The city of Charlottetown has a festival dedicated to holiday events, carriage rides, and markets.
A Green Gables Christmas: The historic Green Gables Heritage Place celebrates with Victorian-style decorations and themed events based on Canada’s most beloved fictional character, Anne of Green Gables.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Mummering: This tradition involves dressing up in disguises and visiting neighbors for songs and merriment during the holidays.
Fisherman’s Brewis: Some families enjoy a traditional meal of Fisherman’s Brewis, made with salt cod and hard bread, on Christmas Eve.

Nunavut

Holiday Qaumakuluit: Inuit Elders in Iqualuit judge the Christmas lights displays of homes and businesses for prizes.
Iqualuit Santa Claus Parade: Local businesses, organizations and individuals are encouraged to show their community spirit by joining Santa in a parade! Following the parade, kids can meet Saint Nick himself, and warm up with some hot chocolate.

Northwest Territories

Christmas Craft Sale: Artists from across the Western Arctic gather in Inuvik to sell their creations.
Sunrise Festival: Because of its latitude, NWT does not see sun during the month of December. However, early in the new year locals will celebrate the rising of a sun with a “Sunrise Festival”. There you can see traditional Inuk drummers, dancers, and other festivities to celebrate the rising of the sun.

Yukon

Light the Giant Christmas Tree: Each year, Whitehorse welcomes in the Christmas season by lighting the gigantic evergreen tree along with a Santa Claus Parade.
Festival of Trees: A fundraiser for the Yukon Hospital Foundation, you’ll find crafts, a silent auction, 50/50 raffle tickets and more.

Canadian butter tart recipe

For a festive Canadian treat, try making your own butter tarts at home.

Butter tarts on a plate

For the Pastry:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/4 cup ice water

Or skip making your own pastry and buy some pre-made tart shells at the grocery store. We won’t judge.

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup (you could substitute maple syrup but corn syrup is traditional)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins or pecans (optional)

Instructions:

1. Prepare the Pastry:

In a bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

Cut in the cold butter (ideally with a pastry cutter) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Drizzle the ice water over the mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until the dough comes together. Form it into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes. You want pastry batter to be cold for maximum flakiness.

2. Preheat Oven and Prepare Muffin Tin:

Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).

Grease a muffin tin or use tart molds if you have them.

3. Roll out pastry and line muffin cups:

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to about 1/8 inch thickness.

Cut out circles slightly larger than the muffin cups and gently press them into the cups, forming pastry shells.

4. Prepare the Filling:

In a mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, beaten egg, vanilla extract, and salt. Mix until well combined.

If using, divide raisins or pecans among the pastry shells, sprinkling them into the bottom of each.

5. Fill the Pastry Shells:

Spoon the filling mixture evenly into each pastry shell, filling about 2/3 full.

6. Bake:

Place the muffin tin in the preheated oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling is set but still slightly jiggly in the center.

Keep an eye on them towards the end to prevent over-browning.

7. Cool and Serve:

Allow the butter tarts to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cooled, enjoy! Butter tarts are best served at room temperature. You can store them in an airtight container for a few days, but they are often eaten before they have a chance to last that long.

  • Canada Abroad team

    Canada Abroad

    Canada Abroad is a transparent Canadian immigration consultancy with advice you can trust. Led by Deanne Acres-Lans (RCIC #508363), the team delivers professional, regulated, and efficient service.

  • The Doherty Fultz Immigration team staff members

    Doherty Fultz Immigration

    Led by Anthony Doherty (RCIC #510956) and Cassandra Fultz (#514356), the Doherty Fultz team uses their 40+ years of experience to empower you towards settling in Canada.

  • Perez McKenzie Immigration

    Led by Jenny Perez (RCIC #423103), Perez McKenzie Immigration is a Canadian immigration consultancy based in British Columbia, with offices in Vancouver and Whistler.

Our Partners

Get your immigration questions answered by an expert

Speak with a regulated Canadian immigration consultant to help plan your immigration. Moving2Canada is happy to recommend a handful of exceptional consultants.
  • Smiling young woman at a laptop

    Find the best immigration program for you

    Take our free immigration quiz and we'll tell you the best immigration programs for you!

  • Chef at restaurant spooning vegetables

    Get matched to job opportunities

    Get matched to job opportunities from Canadian employers who are seeking to hire people with your skills.

  • Access our immigration roadmaps

    Our immigration roadmaps will teach you the basics of Express Entry, study permits, and more! Take control of your own immigration process.

Exclusive

Unlock exclusive resources with a free account.

Create a Moving2Canada account to get the resources you need, tailored to your profile. Get matched with the best immigration programs & job offers, and access exclusive events & resources.