10. Christmas in the United States and Canada

Many of the celebrations in the United States that are associated
with Christmas were traditions brought by German and English
immigrants. Along with the well-known and practiced tradition of a
brightly decorated Christmas tree, other traditions brought by these
immigrants include Advent calendars, Christmas greeting cards,
gingerbread houses and gingerbread cookies.
Christmas in the United States today can be seen as focused
around family, travel, shopping and decorations.
Family and travel go together during Christmas in the United
States because family members often have to travel fairly long
distances to be with each other at one location. The growth of 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.
The occasion of seeing many family members at Christmas is also
linked to the activity of shopping that is an important feature of
Christmas in the United States. 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
Much of the shopping that is done is 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.
Gifts may also exchanged before Christmas at parties held by
friends and parties held at workplaces.
Second to gifts, shopping is also done at Christmas for
decorations. 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.
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 also means they share
many things, so similarities in Christmas traditions wouldn’t be an
One thing that accounts for the difference between the two
countries however, 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.
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.