Holidays in Winter

Winter is long in Montreal, from December into March, so there are many holidays and celebrations.

» Christmas

For many people in Canada, Christmas is the most important holiday of the year. It is on December 25th. It is a time for families to get together. Most people have a few days off work around this time (or between Christmas and New Year’s on January 1st). Most schools are closed for a few days before Christmas until a few days after January. The whole month of December is often called the “Holiday Season” or “the Holidays”. Many people have parties, and many businesses have annual parties for their workers during this time.

Families spend time together during the holidays, so many people travel at this time, and the prices for airplane tickets are higher. Traditionally, families have a big turkey dinner on Christmas. People also invite friends to their homes.  For many people, Christmas is the only time in a year when they see some friends or family members.

People decorate the outside of their homes with lights, and sometimes with pictures or models of Santa Claus. Inside, many people put up and decorate a Christmas tree. People listen to and sing special songs for Christmas called Christmas carols. They send Christmas cards to their family and friends. And people spend a lot of money for food and presents. It is the busiest time of the year in stores.

Children believe Santa Claus (also called Saint Nicolas or Father Christmas) brings them presents on Christmas Eve (the night before Christmas) by flying around the world in his magic sled pulled by eight flying reindeer. Santa Claus is supposed to enter your home by the chimney, so people leave a stocking (a big sock) hanging by their fireplace for Santa to fill with toys and candy. Most shopping centres have a Santa Claus who asks children what they want for Christmas.

Christmas is the most important religious holiday for Christians. They believe that December 25th is the birthday of Jesus Christ. But, even people who are not religious celebrate Christmas. According to the Bible, when Jesus was born, there was a bright star in the sky that led three wise men to find him. Each of the wise men gave a present to the baby Jesus. This is the origin of giving presents at Christmas.

If you are spending the holiday season in Canada, you will see the lights and decorations everywhere. You will hear Christmas music in every store and shopping centre. On TV, all the programmes are about Christmas.

» Boxing Day

Boxing Day is December 26th, the day after Christmas. It is an official holiday in some provinces, and most people don’t have to work on this day. No one is sure why it is called Boxing Day: it is just the day after Christmas. Why is Boxing Day special? For many people, it is because of Boxing Day sales.

Before Christmas, people spend a lot of money, and stores are very busy. After Christmas, stores often have a lot of extra stock to get rid of. Almost everywhere, there are have very big sales. Some people line up at 6:00 in the morning at stores like Future Shop to buy TVs or computers at 50% off. Many stores now have advertising for Boxing Day (or Boxing Week) sales before Christmas, and now many shoppers wait until after Christmas to buy some big things.

But are the prices really so good? There are some very good prices in some stores, but many of the special prices are only for a few items. For example, there will be a TV for only $100 on sale, but only three in the store, so only three people can buy it.  Don’t expect everything in the store to be on sale. Also, the stores are very crowded and you have to wait a long time in line, and it is difficult to get service or information sometimes.

» Hanukkah

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It lasts eight days, and it is in November or December every year. The time changes because it is from the Jewish calendar.

During Hanukkah, Jewish families light one extra candle every day on the menorah, which is a special candle holder. On the first night, they light one candle. On the second night, they light two candles, and so on until all the candles are lit.

There are special foods and games people play during the holiday. In North America, Hanukkah has been influenced by Christmas gift giving. Because it is usually in December, around the time of Christmas, some Jewish families give gifts to children during Hanukkah, although not all families do this.

» New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is January 1st. Many Canadians have a special dinner with family and friends on New Year’s Day. Another thing people do for the New Year is they make “New Year’s Resolutions”. A resolution is a promise to make a change in your life or to do something difficult or special in the new year. For example, some people make a resolution to lose weight, or to quit smoking, or to read more books. If you look in the newspaper, you will see many advertisements for exercise machines and gym memberships for people who make a resolution to go on a diet and lose weight. Not everybody keeps their New Year’s resolutions, though. But every year, they try again.

The night before New Year’s Day is called New Year’s Eve. Eve means the night before. People often go to parties or to nightclubs for New Year’s Eve. At midnight, everyone stops and counts down:

“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,.. Happy New Year!”

It is traditional to kiss someone you love at midnight, at the beginning of the new year. Then people drink champagne wine and sing “Auld Lang Syne”, a famous song. “Auld Lang Syne” is Scottish, and it means “a long time ago”.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

In Montreal, there is usually a live music concert in Old Montreal, with thousands of people dancing and celebrating. At midnight, there are fireworks in the Old Port.

Other people prefer to stay home and watch special TV programs. In New York City, in Times Square, there is a big party you can watch live on TV with a large ball that is up in the air that lowers at midnight.

» Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the first day of the first month of the traditional Chinese lunar (moon) calendar. The date of Chinese New is different every year, but it is usually January or February. Many Chinese people call it Sping Festival, but in English, it is called Chinese New Year. It celebrated by many people in Canada, because so many people come from China, Vietnam, Korea, and Taiwan.

There is lots of special food, and there are sometimes Lion Dances in Chinatown. Children wait to receive red envelopes full of money as new year’s gifts.

One thing everyone in Canada is interested in is the new animal year that begins. There are 12 animals associated with new years in the Chinese calendar. Do you know what animal year you were born in? Check below, but remember, if your birthday is in January, your animal is the year before, because Chinese New Year is always in late January or February.

Rat 1900 1912 1924 1936 1948 1960 1972 1984 1996 2008
Cow 1901 1913 1925 1937 1949 1961 1973 1985 1997 2009
Tiger 1902 1914 1926 1938 1950 1962 1974 1986 1998 2010
Rabbit 1903 1915 1927 1939 1951 1963 1975 1987 1999 2011
Dragon 1904 1916 1928 1940 1952 1964 1976 1988 2000 2012
Snake 1905 1917 1929 1941 1953 1965 1977 1989 2001 2013
Horse 1906 1918 1930 1942 1954 1966 1978 1990 2002 2014
Goat 1907 1919 1931 1943 1955 1967 1979 1991 2003 2015
Monkey 1908 1920 1932 1944 1956 1968 1980 1992 2004 2016
Chicken 1909 1921 1933 1945 1957 1969 1981 1993 2005 2017
Dog 1910 1922 1934 1946 1958 1970 1982 1994 2006 2018
Pig 1911 1923 1935 1947 1959 1971 1983 1995 2007 2019


» Groundhog Day

February 2nd is Groundhog Day in Canada and the United States. It is not really a holiday, but traditionally it is a day when some people believe an animal called the groundhog can predict how long the winter will last.

A groundhog is large rodent. Rodents are a family of animals that includes mice, rats, squirrels, and beavers. The groundhog can be found in most of Canada and in the northern United States. It is about 60 centimetres long and it has a 15-centimetre tail. It weighs between two and nine kilograms. It is covered in thick, brown fur. It eat plants and berries. It lives in grassy areas near forests.

Groundhogs dig holes (burrows) in the ground. The burrow can have many compartments, like rooms in a house. They spend most of their time in their burrows, except when they are looking for food. They are very busy in summer finding food. During the winter, they hibernate. Hibernation is something many animals do during cold weather. There is no food outside, so they sleep to save energy, and live off of the fat they gained during the summer when they ate a lot.

It is traditionally believed in North America that a groundhog comes out of its hibernation on February 2nd. If he comes out of his burrow and he does not see his shadow on that day, people believe that there will be an early spring and the weather will get warm soon. If the groundhog does see his shadow, he goes back to sleep in his burrow because there will be six more weeks of winter.

So what will the weather be like on February 2nd? If it is sunny, then the groundhog will see his shadow, and the winter will continue. If it is cloudy, spring will come soon!

The official groundhog for Canada is called Wiarton Willy, and he lives in the town of Wiarton, Ontario. On February 2nd, there is a big ceremony in Wiarton, and TV and newspaper reporters watch to see if Wiarton Willy will see his shadow. That evening, Canadians see Willy on the TV news.

Every year, weather forecasters try to predict what the weather will be like on Groundhog Day. According to Environment Canada, the Canadian government weather service, the chances of a groundhog seeing his shadow on February 2nd in Montreal are 52%. That means that 52% of the time, February 2nd is sunny in Montreal. As for other Canadian cities, in Toronto it is 54%, in Ottawa it is 48%, in Calgary it is 60%, but in Vancouver, it is only 23%.

The holiday goes back to northern Europe, where many people believed some animals could forecast the weather. The idea for Groundhog Day probably came from German immigrants in the northern United States in the 18th century.

So does it work? Well, spring doesn’t start officially until March 21st, which is about six weeks after February 2nd, but it doesn’t matter. Groundhog Day is a popular holiday because when the weather is cold in February, everyone is hoping that spring will come soon.

» St. Valentine’s Day

Everyone knows that February 14th is Valentine’s Day, but where did the holiday come from, and what does it mean?

Valentine’s Day is now a traditional holiday for lovers. It falls on February 14th because that was the feast day of Saint Valentine, who died in the Roman Empire around the year 270 AD. A saint is a Christian holy person.

In North America, there are many customs for St. Valentine’s Day. The most common and oldest tradition is sending a valentine. These cards are usually red, pink and white, and have a message of love written on them. People send them to others that they love, such as a sweetheart, a parent or a child. Children in school often make valentines to give to their classmates. The first time valentine cards were sold in the United States was in 1840. Today, millions of cards are exchanged. Another custom is to send chocolates, candy, flowers or some other gift to a person you love. The kind of gift depends on the kind of love.

In other countries, there are different customs for Valentine’s Day. For example, in Japan and Korea, on February 14th, women send chocolate to men that they care about. Then, on March 14th, one month later, men send candy or cookies back to the women they love or care about. For Chinese people, the holiday for love and lovers falls on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

» Concordia President’s Holiday

The Concordia President’s Holiday is a day when the whole university is closed, only at Concordia. It is a Friday near the end of February every year. It is at the end of “Mid-Term Break”, which is a one-week break (sometimes called “Reading Week”) in classes for undergraduate and graduate students at the university.

During the Mid-Term Break, the library and other Concordia services are open, including the School of Extended Learning and the Language Institute (our school). However, to give all the workers at the university a day off, the university president closes the whole university for one day. So enjoy a nice long weekend in February. Maybe it is a good time to try skiing!

» International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is March 8th. It is a day to celebrate the work and achievements of women all over the world. In some countries, it is a full holiday, and in others it is traditional to give gifts like flowers to women (like a combination of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day). For many people, it is the first holiday of the spring season. However, it is not a holiday in Canada, and there are no special celebrations, but there are usually some news stories in the paper or on TV on the day.

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