Archive for December, 2014

Christmas on Canada’s East Coast: A Beginner’s Guide

Posted on December 22nd, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Entertainment, Food, Language, Travel | No Comments »

Christmas in Canada has some pretty solid staples all over: Christmas trees, family gatherings, lots of food, the usual Christmas parties. On the East Coast you can find some deviations to the norm, and some adaptations to what you would typically expect for a Christmas celebration that makes Christmas on the coast all that more interesting. Here are just a few Christmas traditions from the Canadian Maritimes to get you into the holiday spirit!


Photo by Jenny Neal/Flickr

Mummering is something you’ll find in Newfoundland. During the 12 days of Christmas, families and friends will travel in groups dressed in disguises. The goal when mummering is to make sure no one will recognize you and that you use items from your house when dressing up. If you can make yourself taller, slimmer, fatter, bigger (anything at all to confuse those who know you) then that is what you need to do before leaving your home to go mummering. After your disguises are in place, you travel from house to house in your neighbourhood, knocking on doors and asking to be welcomed in. If you are allowed to enter a home, you and your group must perform some sort of entertainment. It can be a dance, or you can tell jokes, or sing a song – really anything you’d like.

When the entertainment is finished, the owners of the home must try to guess your identities before offering you food and drink. They’re allowed to ask each of the mummers questions and feel around their costume for help in deciding who it could be. When all the mummers’ identities have been guessed, and the food and drinks are finished, a newer, larger group is formed (in some cases though not always) and they travel together to another house.

Trees and Christmas Presents!

Eastern Canada has amazing fir and pine trees, so if you are purchasing a real tree at Christmas, which many families do, it would be one of these. It’s quite common to buy Christmas trees around the beginning of December and they are decorated by the family. One thing most people don’t know is that every year, the biggest and best fir tree in Nova Scotia is sent to Boston, USA. This is done in memory and in thanks of the aid received from Boston during the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Presents are generally placed underneath the Christmas tree, and in many homes on Christmas Eve after a rather large family supper you are able to open one Christmas present early.

Yummy Nibblin’s

East Coasters are more likely to eat a big feats of lobsters and shellfish for Christmas dinner than they are to eat the more traditional turkey or ham. Taffy pulls are also quite common during the holiday season, which is usually used as a matchmaking event for single ladies and single gentlemen in the community.

Barley candy and Chicken Bones are popular candies to eat around Christmas time on the East Coast. Barley candy is usually on a stick and is shaped like a Christmas object; Santa, reindeer, snowmen or something equally seasonal. Chicken Bones are a hard pink candy that tastes like cinnamon, though once sucked on long enough they reveal a secret chocolate centre.

Polar Dips

Photo by Jim Sorbie/Flickr

Photo by Jim Sorbie/Flickr

We would be remiss not to mention polar dips on our list, and although it’s more of a New Years Eve tradition, it does happen around the Christmas season. Polar dips make many people cringe just hearing about them, but they are a pretty common occurrence on the coast. Around Christmas and New Year people will get together, sometimes in teams, and jump off a wharf or a pier (or in some cases just simply run) into the Atlantic Ocean. The water is usually ice cold, and bathers are meant to jump in with as little clothing on as possible. Usually these are charity events and a lot of drinking is done right after the polar dip is completed. It’s a chilly way to raise money for others and good fun all around.

How do you celebrate Christmas in your neck of the woods? Let us know in the comments section below. If you’re interested in Canadian culture (and the very specific English spoken in the country), contact us for courses today.

First Footing and Fire Shows: Everything You Need To Know About New Years in Scotland!

Posted on December 11th, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Entertainment, Travel | No Comments »

New Year’s Eve is famously celebrated all over the world – New York City drops its ball in Times Square, and countless folks all over North America set off fireworks. But, have you heard of the all day (usually two day!) party in Scotland that’s called Hogmanay? Pronounced “hog-ma-NAY”, this crazy, tradition-soaked, fun-filled revelry can last until the 2nd of January, which luckily is a bank holiday in Scotland. We’ve compiled some must-know facts about Hogmanay, so you’ll know exactly what you’re in for!

Photo via Robbie Shade/Flickr

Photo via Robbie Shade/Flickr

First Footing

First footing is a unique tradition that’s celebrated all over Scotland on New Year’s Eve. The custom goes that the first person through your front door in the New Year should be a handsome, dark haired male. He should be carrying food, and fuel. Items that are usually carried include a few pieces of coal, salt, a black bun, and some shortbread.  The visitor should be welcomed with open arms, and a kiss (hey, it is New Year’s after all) and they should be given a ‘wee’ (small) dram of whiskey.

The visitor is meant to bring good luck on your house and all those who live in it for the year to come. If he is fair haired then it’s said to bring bad luck. This tradition might date back to when Viking invaders (generally being blonde) meant that probably anything but good luck was headed your way.

Playing with fire!

Every area of Scotland has added its own elements to their Hogmanay celebration. People in Stonehaven in the North of Scotland swing chicken wire balls, filled with paper and rags, which are attached to 3 meters of rope or chain. At midnight, revelers swing the lit balls of fire around their heads as they parade up and down the High Street. When the parade’s finished any fireballs that remain are thrown into the harbour and a fireworks display unlike any other caps off the night.

Generally fireworks of all sorts can be found all over Scotland come New Years Eve. The Biggar Bonfire is one of the largest and more famous, found just after sundown in a place called Biggar.  There’s also the Flambeaux Procession that takes place in Camrie, close to the Scottish highlands. Every year 8 giant fiery torches travel in procession through the town, before being thrown into the river.

All this fire play harkens back to Pagan festivals of ringing in the New Year. The fire is meant to ward away evil spirits and chase away the bad of the old year.

And of course…

Other traditions that must be carried out before midnight on December 31st include cleaning the house and getting rid of any garbage (or ashes in the fire). You also need to pay all your debts before midnight. Then, last but not least, right after midnight strikes, Robbie Burn’s famous song, “Auld Lang Syne” is sung, and kisses are shared all round.

If Scotland fascinates you, and the idea of New Years in Edinburgh makes you want to jump for joy, why not check out what English courses we have near you now? Start your New Year with a new language!