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VideoCast Episode 8: Everything You Need To Know About Canadian Holidays & Traditions with Catherine Vertesi

Experiencing Canada’s holidays and traditions, especially for international students, is one of the interesting things they’ll experience when going to study and work in Canada. To give us an overview, Catherine Vertesi –  former lecturer, director of undergraduate business and MBA programs, dean, and Vice President Education –  is back on the show to talk about everything you need to know about Canadian holidays and traditions.

– I really encourage your listeners to think about coming to Canada. It’s actually a very welcoming place.


– This is Study and Work in Canada, Tamwood’s podcast on all things international students want to know about co-op education programs in Canada. I’m Tamsin Plaxton, Tamwood’s Founder and President, and an avid member of the Canadian private education sector. Welcome back to Study and Work in Canada. And I’m excited to have Catherine Vertesi back as a guest on this episode. Welcome, Catherine. You know, Catherine and I had a chance after the last recording to chat about the experience of going abroad and having experienced students coming into our programs. And we got talking about some of the interesting things that happen when you go abroad. And one of them is experiencing Canadian traditions and Canadian holidays for international students. And certainly, for students going abroad as well. I mean, it goes both ways. As a Canadian who’s been abroad, I can say it’s been interesting for me traveling to different countries and being there at the time of say national holidays and getting to experience the holiday in the way a foreign culture would. And for international students who come to Canada to work and study, that’s also a big part of the experience is getting to see how Canadians celebrate holidays and milestones and different events that occur throughout the calendar year. So we decided that this would make a great topic for an episode of this show. So Catherine’s back on the show and Catherine, just maybe share again with the listeners a little bit about your background in case they missed your earlier episode.


– Well, many years ago I started sending students on study abroad and exchange, and it meant that Canadian kids got to go to other countries and study for a semester and then come home. And one of the things they always said was after being away, they had a much stronger sense of some of their Canadian things and Canadian traditions, because they saw them in contrast to what they were having when they were in Denmark or in Spain or in Hong Kong, that it was really different than in Canada. I worked for many, many years as a senior academic, but I also sponsored most of the internationalization experiences for Canadian kids, but for incoming international students as well. And over time, I just realized there were some things that were perplexing that maybe by talking to about them early, people would be able to more deeply appreciate what they’re seeing, but also just explain stuff. You know, why are we doing this? And what is this day all about? In addition to working professionally in this, I have had in my home, many international students come for particular holidays, come for particular holiday events, special dinners or celebrations, but I’ve also had homestay students here. And all of these have made me think about what are the kinds of things that might be helpful? What are this signals that might be helpful if you came here? And that’s really why I had this idea of putting something together to say, as we walk through the year, what are the things you’re gonna see? And what does that mean and how do you behave in response to that? So that’s what this is all about. It’s a really a fun thing. It’s not meant to be deeply serious, just a fun thing to let you know Canada a bit better.


– And I think that people are excited about coming. ‘Cause coming for the study and coming for the work experience in Canada is obviously the main motivation, but why go abroad and not do that at home? It’s because you also wanna combine your education with a an overseas experience, an international experience, and part of that is experiencing the culture.


– Absolutely right. Well, the first thing I think about is that Canada is really a country, a nation of immigrants. Although about less than 10% of the population are the First Nations. That’s what we call the Indian people, the original tribes that lived here, the population is really made up of people who came here. Some of my family came to North America 300 years ago and my husband was born in Hungary and came to Canada as a little boy. So a wide variety of nations have contributed to the population of Canada. But I think it’s important to understand that we are both most deeply influenced by the cultures of the British Isles, England, Scotland and Ireland. The large number of immigrants that came to Canada in the 1800s and 1900s came from those cultures in particular. And they really formed a lot of the background of how we do things in Canada. And although those things have been modified over the years, they’re still kind of the underlying structure. Just for example, in Canada, we have a parliament that is like the British Parliament. I never get to vote for who should be prime minister. I vote in my area for someone to represent me and the party that gets the most number of people elected, they get to choose who the prime minister will be, as opposed to the Americans who have a president or the French who have a president, very different kind of methods. But mainly, we are deeply influenced by the cultures of the British Isles. So I thought I would talk about a bunch of activities that get you to know Canadians a little bit through some of their customs and things that are really fun. And I’m gonna start with birthdays. So in Canada, we celebrate birthdays on the day, the anniversary of the day people are born. That’s not the same everywhere in the world. Some people have a month that they celebrate. Some people, they celebrate their name day more than their birthday, but for us, it’s the day you were born. And from the time a baby is born on their first birthday is the first birthday party they have. And birthday parties consist of gifts and balloons and excitement, but mainly, it consists of have a birthday cake. And on that cake, you put candles. Now until you’re about 18 or 19, the candles represent each year of your life. So when you’re five, five candles. When you’re 18, it starts getting a little tough. By 25, you can’t get 25 candles on a cake. So still people will put lots of candles on. And the deal is everyone sings happy birthday to you. ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪ You’ve probably heard that if you’ve seen American television or movies. And then at the end of that, whoever is the birthday person gets to blow out the candles. They make a cut, they make a wish. And the number of times it takes you to breaths, it takes you to blow out the candles is how long you’ll have to wait for that birthday wish to come true. You might be invited to a birthday party sometimes in someone’s home but often with young people, they meet in a restaurant somewhere. And even then the waiters may come over and sing happy birthday to the birthday person. Bring a card. There’s lots places to buy cards. You can ask anybody. They’ll direct you to different shops that have cards. You might wanna bring a small present, but it should be just box of candy or something from your culture or something like that. No necessity for a great big gift, but you may indeed be invited. And I think you should say yes, because it’ll be a lot of fun. Well, another big celebration are weddings. So in Canada, primarily you can tell if somebody is married by the fact they wear a ring and they wear it on their left hand, in the second from your last finger. Now in Canada, it’s really common for men and women to wear a ring. Usually, the woman will wear a ring usually with some kind of gem in it like a diamond once she has agreed to marry somebody, that’s called an engagement ring. And then when they get married, the two of them exchange plain gold rings usually. And that’s the signal that somebody is married or planning on being married. If you see any American movies or television, you know that North America, the brides wear white dresses, they wear a veil. There is usually a ceremony. Sometimes the ceremony is in a church, but it could be in a garden. You don’t need to be married by a particular religious person. The state provides people who are allowed to marry you. They often have other attendants with the bride or the groom. Girls wearing similar colored dresses that might be a sister or cousins or just really good friends of the bride and good friends of the groom. Now in Canada, the main British kind of tradition and probably Northern European kind of tradition that’s carried on here is you give a gift and the gift is something people will use in their household as they proceed into their married life. Some cultures give money. And I think if you’re invited to a wedding, you just have to ask what’s expected. If you’re from any of the Mediterranean countries, the likelihood is you give money. Maybe from Hong Kong and China, you give money, but in the more traditional British Canadian way, you would actually give a gift, something they would use. After the wedding, the bride and groom go away on a trip that we call a honeymoon. And it’s basically to rest up after the wedding and to have a little time just alone together. I think the tradition comes from when brides and grooms didn’t know each other so well. And it was an opportunity to get them knowing each other better. And very happy occasions, often there are parties, there are dancing. There’s all kinds of things, always associated with food, but people get married in the morning, afternoon, and night. Some of them go on trips to another country to get married, but some of the weddings are small and some of the weddings are huge. You just have to ask if you’re invited somewhere. Well, at the other end of those good times of birthdays and weddings, if you look a little bit, when somebody dies, what happens? Well, when somebody dies, usually there is some kind of formal recognition of that. Often that happens, it’s called a funeral and it happens in a church, but also, there’s a lot of funerals so-called memorial services that happen in other places. I have a friend who recently passed away and his memorial service was a held at the university where he was a professor for many, many years. And a concentration here at the Canadian concentration isn’t on weeping and wailing, although there’s sure lots of tears, no question, but the event, the service or the recognition, we usually call it a celebration of life. And we really look at that person and what they were like and tell positive stories or funny stories and try to focus on how much that person contributed to our lives rather than mourning and moaning about the fact that they’re not there anymore, although certainly, people are very sad. For funerals and memorials, people tend to dress in very subdued colors, sometimes black or navy blue, some darker color, but there’s no requirement that you as a widow or a widower or a child that you continue to wear black for a period of time. It’s just really for that one day event, a sad time but a nice recognition of that person to give some closure when they have passed away. So that’s a little bit about birthdays, weddings and funerals. So let’s go through the year and talk a little bit about how do we have other kinds of celebrations and what are the so-called public holidays we have in Canada. And I’m mainly saying that because I’ve had students, who’ve come home on the bus and said, “What was that? And why did they have those things in the window of the stores? Or why am I seeing those posters everywhere?” And I thought, I’d just go through and tell you the most common things. Now let’s remember we live in a Northern country. That means that winter period of January, February, March is pretty long. We don’t have any formal holidays during that time, but we still do a little bit of celebrating of some things just for fun. And the first one I wanna talk about is Valentine’s Day. Now, when I’m taping this Valentine’s Day was yesterday. And my husband brought me a big bouquet of flowers because Valentine’s Day is supposed to be the celebration of being in love, of loving somebody. And so it’s traditional that boyfriends and girlfriends might go out for dinner. Women get gifts of candy and flowers, et cetera. But what you really see everywhere are hearts, the sweet heart shape, red. And people dress in red on Valentine’s Day when they go to work to say, hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. Little children in school will cut out hearts, give them to each other. They have little cards that they give to each other. It’s just for fun. It’s not a public holiday or anything, but everybody in Canada knows what Valentine’s Day is. So that’s the day of red, but we also have a day of green and that’s in celebration of the kind of Irish background of many people in Canada. But beyond that, just because it’s another fun thing to do in winter isn’t quite over yet, and that is St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day, green is everywhere. The sign for Ireland are these little plants that are called shamrocks. They’re like a clover. They have three little leaves on them, very bright green, and there’s green everywhere. So Irish pubs tint their beer green. So people go to Irish pubs at St. Patrick’s Day and drink green beer. Sometimes restaurants get in the bit thing. I noticed recently that McDonald’s has a shamrock shake, which is they put mint in it, which is green, so you get a green milkshake. Other restaurants do the same kind of thing. In some parts of North America, St. Patrick’s Day is really celebrated. There’s a big parade in New York and in Boston, but we don’t have anything like that here in Canada, but we do this just for fun. So you’ll see.


– Yeah, I think everybody is an honorary Irish person on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th.


– That’s right and you’ll see on that day, March 17th, people will arrive at work wearing green because it’s St Patrick’s Day. And it’s just another fun thing because the winter is long. And now in parts of Canada, the winter is very snowy. For us in Vancouver, it can be quite cloudy and rainy, and it’s just to brighten your day and give you something to look forward to just for fun. And then we know spring is coming and spring is always associated with Easter. Now in Easter, you have to recognize that the background of the Easter break and holiday, again, comes out of this British tradition. In fact, the Anglican church, which is the main church in England, it’s that tradition. And it is about the death and rebirth of Christ but we get four days of time off here in Vancouver, in British Columbia. Now in Ontario, they don’t get the Monday off, but we get Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday as a holiday. So you get a little break if you’re here, you don’t go into work usually. Now it depends on what your job is because of course restaurants are open and retail is open, but the government businesses and the schools and universities are all closed. How will you notice this? Because suddenly the Easter Bunny is everywhere and that’s where it comes back to it’s spring. It is recognizing the rebirth and rabbits are a symbol of that and so are eggs. So the tradition at Easter time is to take eggs and paint them bright colors that children very often do that. They hard boil the eggs and paint them all these colors. They do drawings of bunnies and eggs and stuff at their schools, but a big deal is chocolate eggs wrapped in colored foils and hidden in gardens and parks and children go on Easter egg hunts. They take a basket and they go look under everything to try and find where those little chocolate eggs are. So you’ll see eggs, you’ll see bunnies, you’ll see chocolate bunnies. All these little animals are made of chocolate. And it’s really just recognizing that spring is coming. It’s turned into that kind of, oh, at last, we’re finished with winter. Now we’re not totally finished with winter. Then we have a holiday in May. I actually was at one point in Montreal and it snowed on the 10th of May, but that’s actually very highly unusual and unlikely. But the real beginning of the summer season kind of unofficially in Canada is something that we call Victoria Day. It’s the second last Monday in May. It changes year to year. It’s the second last Monday. It is absolutely unique in Canada. And it was a holiday originating for Queen Victoria’s birthday. Queen Victoria was the queen of the United Kingdom, as well as all the colonies, and that was in 1800s. And Canada continued even after she died to use that day to celebrate their monarch whenever the monarch’s real birthday occurs. In Toronto and Eastern Canada, it’s a day where there’s a lot of fireworks. We don’t have those fireworks out here in the western part of Canada, but I know having been in Montreal and Toronto during that time of year, there’s a great fireworks display. Everybody gets the day off and we get a three-day weekend. People go camping. They begin to go picnicking. Basically, it’s the time where it’s warming off. You can get outside and have fun outside. Again, unique to Canada. The big holiday for Canada called Canada Day comes on July 1st, and it’s a celebration of Canada’s independence. This is a day where we do have fireworks all the way across the country. We have usually picnics and barbecues. Families get together. In Ottawa, which is the capital of Canada, there is usually a big performance of many famous Canadian artists and it is broadcast across the country. But it’s also a most important day for the new citizens of Canada, because they do a very large citizenship recognition and people get sworn in as new Canadians. It’s actually a really lovely day and people celebrate it in many different ways, but there are always fireworks, all the major cities in Canada have fireworks on that day. So in the summertime, it’s a real holiday time. Now Canadian schools tend to be in from, they start in September and they go around the year. And if you’re in the K-12 system, your school will finish in late June. If you’re at a college or a university, you could finish at different times, but usually in the late spring and then summer programs start if you’re gonna do that. But the summer holidays is a time when kids and families often go on holidays. Kids may go to a particular summer camp or summer camp program. Families go off on holidays. They try to go to the beach side. Camping is very popular all the way across Canada. People tent or they have trailers or they rent small cabins and spend a lot of time outdoors. Usually, they go away for a couple of weeks. There is a requirement of two weeks of vacation time by legislation in Canada. And people have anywhere from two to four weeks, sometimes six weeks vacation if they worked at the same place for a long time. Now, families do take vacations in the winter as well ’cause remembering that this is a country that has lots of mountains, lots of snow, lots of opportunities to go outside and be outside in the cold because you should celebrate being out there. And you skate on frozen ponds. You go skiing or snowboarding. You can tell by how much activity there is in the Winter Olympics from Canada, that children start having winter activities when they’re really young. And whole families go away in the winter time as well. Well, just like we had Victoria Day to kind of celebrate the opening of the summer, there’s an unofficial end to the summer, and that is called Labour Day. Now I know that most countries in the world celebrate Labor Day or the celebration of workers on the 1st of May, but Canada and the United States don’t do that. And Labour Day is the first Monday in September. In Canada, Labour Day has been that way since 1872. That’s a long time. Originally, it was an opportunity for workers to demonstrate for better working conditions, but that’s really gone through the wayside. There are still elements of worker celebrations, but mostly for most of Canada, Labour Day represents the last holiday before you go back to school. So schools and colleges and universities primarily begin the day after Labour Day. So after the first Monday in September, comes the first Tuesday, and that’s the day you go back to school and your more regular life. We always felt that that was really more like New Year’s than the first of the year. So if you’ve watched much American television or movies, you’ll have seen a big celebration for Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving is really a recognition especially of farmers that do so much work to put our food on our table. And in the United States, it’s a very big holiday and it’s in late November, but late November is way too late for Canada to be celebrating a harvest. And once again, influenced by the British church calendar, we have our celebration of Thanksgiving in October. That’s really a big harvest time here all the way across the country. And Thanksgiving here, there’s a holiday. Thanksgiving, people have their family together and they have a big dinner. That’s really what Thanksgiving is about and a recognition that we need to be thankful for all the benefits we have living in Canada. We traditionally eat turkey at Thanksgiving and it’s usually roasted at a big dinner and we have something else, pumpkin pie. Again, it’s the time when the pumpkins are all ripe. And one of the things we do with them is to make them into pies. And so it’s a kind of nice family holiday. You may see some things, a lot of autumn kind of symbols are decorating shops and restaurants, and it would be multi-colored leaves ’cause the leaves are turning to red and gold across the country, but also the turkey and sort of baskets overflowing with fruit and vegetables to show our thankfulness to the farmers. But we do something else with pumpkins and that comes on Halloween. Now that’s the end of October the 31st. Again, really related to the church calendar. The 1st of November is All Saints’ Day. This is across all denominations of Christian churches. And Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, that’s supposed to be the day where all the ghosts and goblins and bad creatures come out of the graves. And because the next day, there’s a celebration of all the good people. So what does that mean? Well, Halloween is we wear costumes. People dress up and they dress up often like witches and ghosts and all kinds of creepy creatures but in many years, for many years now, young kids dress up, they dress up and go to school dressed up. The teachers may be dressed up. At the university, all of us, the professors we all dressed up on Halloween. But back to the pumpkin, we take a pumpkin, hollow out the inside, and carve a funny face on the outside, put a candle inside and put it outside our houses. That’s an invitation for on the 31st of October for little children to come to our house in the evening and they look at us and they go, trick or treat. Trick or treat is a request for I’m gonna do a bad trick on you if you don’t give me a treat, and the treat is usually candy. So they have little bags with them. They knock on the door, go trick or treat. And whoever lives in the home puts a piece of chocolate or potato chips or some special treat inside their bags and off they go again.


– Catherine, on the Halloween, I’ve got friends that live in an area of Vancouver that it seems to have become the popular spot for kids to go door-to-door trick-or-treating. And they literally come in in busloads from the suburbs of the city. And they were telling me this year, they had close to a thousand kids come to their door. So they have to recruit friends to help them give out the candy. And it’s just a constant lineup of children coming to their door. And my neighborhood seems to get a lot less. I think I might have had 15 kids on Halloween. So it’s interesting how certain neighborhoods get a reputation. And because those thousand kids went this year, they’ll tell their friends and they’ll tell their friends and yeah, so, but it goes on all over the city and some kids just stay in an apartment building and they go door-to-door in their apartment building. Other kids, if they live in an apartment building, they want the tradition of going door-to-door on a street. So they’ll go to another neighborhood where there are actual separate individual houses to be able to knock on front doors.


– Yeah, I had about 70 people at my house and this year, I spent part of the time at my son’s house, which is also a single house on the other side of the city from me. And I think he had 90 pieces of candy and they were all gone. But the kids are dressed up. Now they used to always to be ghosts and goblins and witches, but now they dress up as superheroes, as princesses, as fairies, as pirates, you name it, a whole variety of costumes.


– I went to a Halloween party this year and all the adults were dressed up. I think we get more into it than the kids do.


– Yeah, it’s a really fun thing. So actually, if you come to Canada, you may be invited to a Halloween party and you have to figure out what costume you can wear. Some people actually, if you have a particular native dress, you could wear that from your home country. But also, you can just paint a funny face on your face and you’re fine.


– Yeah, so at Tamwood, at our college, we have a Halloween costume competition. We also have a pumpkin carving competition at the campus, in Toronto and in Vancouver and Whistler, all three campuses. And this year, the costumes, the effort that students put into their costumes was really amazing. And staff show up as well in costumes. So it’s a fun day to be at the campus. It’s a really exciting day.


– Yeah, and if you ask little kids, if you say what’s your favorite holiday, even though they get presents on their birthday, even though they get presents at Christmas time, they’ll tell you Halloween is their favorite ’cause there’s just a lot of excitement built around it. So when you’re on the bus, looking out the window and suddenly you’ll see a funny looking carved pumpkin in the window of some shop, that’s because Halloween is coming. So after that, there’s a very serious holiday and it is a public holiday. So you don’t get a day off from work for Halloween, but for this day, for Remembrance Day, you do. November 11th was the time at the end of the First World War that the treaties were signed to end the war. And so this is the day, Americans, some people call it Veterans Day, but for us we call it Remembrance Day. And it’s to remember not only that war, but all wars and the fact that we have soldiers that defend us and also to remember civilians who have been killed and the kind of devastatingness of war. Now something fairly unique in Canada is that coming up to Remembrance Day, actually usually starting right after Halloween, is people wear a red poppy on their clothes. And it’s usually made out of felt or plastic. It’s not a real flower ’cause it wouldn’t last long enough, but they wear this red flower on their coat and it’s to signify that they are respectful of the past and the sacrifices people made for us to have the security and liberty that we have here. In schools, often there’s a special time where they have a moment of silence at 11 o’clock because that was the time, at 11:00 a.m. in the morning on the 11th of November is when the treaty was signed. And there’s various ceremonies around, sometimes parades, but it’s a serious day and it is a day of reflection. So that’s November 11th. And then we hit towards the end of the year into December and then we start to have the winter holidays. All cultures tend to have something that goes on at this time of year and here where I live, in British Columbia, we have a really large population that’s from India. And so it’s now quite common to see Diwali, the festival of lights from India celebrated. People on the radio and on the television will wish a happy Diwali. There are various events that you can go to and special foods that you eat. And most kids in school now in the K-12 system will learn what Diwali is all about actually in their school. The other holiday that they learn about that is from the Jewish religion, and that is Hanukkah, their festival of lights. And in Hanukkah, there’s a candle that is lit, they’re lit up to eight days. So day one, there’s one candle, day two, there’s two candles. There’s various special foods that they eat and it’s to celebrate a victory hundreds and hundreds of years ago, where the people who are under siege thought they had enough oil in their lamps to last for one day, but it lasted for eight days. So this is the celebration that happens at this time of year. In some families, each one of those days, the children get a gift and it’s celebrated in various ways, but almost all children who have gone to school in British Columbia or Alberta or anywhere across the country will know what Hanukkah is because they learn about it in school. But of course the very big holiday in December that is celebrated across Canada is Christmas. Christmas, of course, was originated as a religious holiday and for many people, it still is, but there’s a very big secular component and it comes in the personification of Santa Claus. So the Northern Europeans also have a kind of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas kind of iteration, but in North America, our Santa, it’s the same in the United States and Canada. He’s a big fat guy who wears a red suit and has a big, big beard. And supposedly, on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, he flies through the night sky, lands on your rooftop, comes down the chimney and leaves you gifts under your tree. And the sleigh that Santa is in is pulled through the sky by flying reindeer. I mean, all of these things when I talk about it seems so silly, but for little kids, they love this holiday. Almost all the big shopping centers will have someone dressed as Santa and families take their kids there and the kids have their pictures taken with Santa. Santa supposedly keeps a list, and if you’re a good kid, you get to tell Santa what you want on the list. So they go and see Santa and say, I want a train or I want a new bike or I want some ice skates or some thing like that. And those photographs are very frequently in people’s homes because it’s a kind of milestone. Every year, they go back to see Santa. Now inside people’s homes, well, first of all, outside people’s homes, they do a lot of decorating, but mostly with lights. Colored lights get put up on people’s houses, starting in the beginning of December. And some people also have big blow up Santa Clauses or snowmen or even here where we don’t really get hardly any snow, we’ll get snowmen, plastic snowmen out on the yard. Candy canes. Candy cane is the shape of a cane and a red and white peppermint stick. And you see candy canes everywhere, but people will have them out in their yard. In general, there’s a lot of decorating, a circular wreath of branches from the various trees that we have here and lights and they also go outside on people’s doors. But inside the house, we put up a Christmas tree. This is a Northern European and British tradition. Some families go out and actually cut down trees. Sometimes there are trees that are brought in every year. They’re evergreen trees and they’re decorated and they’re decorated with lights and colored balls, and they stay in your house usually for the month of December. Canadians sing at Christmas time. Canadians are not big at singing together. I’ve been to places, I remember being in Denmark and after a dinner where there were several people there, people just started singing songs. That happens if you go camping and people are outside around a campfire, but otherwise Canadians don’t really sing together except at Christmas time. And at Christmas time, some of the songs they sing are like old church songs or hymns, that kind of thing but a lot of the songs that they sing are secular songs, they’re songs that were written. So songs like “Frosty the Snowman,” which is about a snowman that comes to life or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” who is the reindeer, remember, I told flying through the sky, pulling Santa’s sleigh. And the story is one day it was so foggy. You had to get a reindeer who came along with a bright red nose and lit the way. Those kinds of songs are also extremely popular. On Christmas Eve, children hang a stocking or a sock, now even if you don’t have a chimney, you still hang the stocking up. And in the morning when you come downstairs, you’d find gifts under the tree and usually candy and small presents and stuff in your stocking. And that’s how you know Santa’s been there. The other tradition is before they go to bed at night, children often leave out a plate that has a cookie and some milk, ’cause that’s what Santa likes and a carrot, ’cause that would be for the reindeer. Then there’s a very big Christmas dinner. Again, this is a family affair. Some people again have turkey just like Thanksgiving, but people also have ham or roast beef, some other major special event meal, special foods. As I said, families and friends get together for this. And of course it’s quite magical because it’s very dark outside and you usually have candles and the light of the Christmas tree. And it’s a very special kind of dinner. We have special treats like cookies that are shaped like Christmas trees. And some people make a gingerbread house. Gingerbread is a kind of cookie that is built in big slabs and you put it together and you get this wonderful house that’s got candy all over it. And that’s a real treat for kids to help make and kids to help eat. Tamsin, I think you were at Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, weren’t you?


– Yeah, yeah. I was sharing earlier that one of my Christmases was spent in Australia. When I was in my 20s, I did a trip around the world for a year and found myself on a sheep station in the far, far outback of Australia for Christmas. And it was so fun to be with them on Christmas because it’s summer in December in Australia where it’s winter here. So my experience of Christmas was always associated with snow and cold and fireplaces. And the common expression is hurry up and get to the table because the food will get cold in the winter in Canada. But on Christmas day, the family was saying, well, hurry up and get to the table or the food will get hot because it was so hot out. It was mid-summer in Australia and instead of going to bargaining or something we would do in Canada on Christmas day, we went water skiing and we went chasing kangaroos in one of their pickup trucks. And yeah, so it’s just a very different experience, but still steeped in English traditions. Australia is a country that was immigrated to from the UK. And so they still have the traditional turkey dinner. It’s just very strange to eat a hot turkey dinner on a day when it’s 38 or 40 degrees out. And you’d much rather just be having a cold drink.


– Yeah, you know, Christmas Day, if you’re here, you have to remember that almost all shops will be closed on Christmas day. Some small stores might open for a few hours in the middle of the day, but otherwise, you can get groceries any day of the year here, not Christmas Day, often not New Year’s Day, and often not Easter Sunday. The rest of the time, even if it’s a holiday, you can still go to a supermarket and get food. And so you don’t have to plan ahead so much, but around Christmas time, you have to be really conscious of what’s open and what’s not ’cause everybody wants to be at home. And even people who are not particularly Christian will celebrate Christmas and Christmas dinner and Christmas activities. It’s a really major holiday. And again, it’s linked to that time of the year. It’s the darkest time of the year. And it’s a celebration that is filled with light and fun and it sort of brings the winter along. And the last day of the year was really the first day of the year that I wanna talk about, and that’s New Year’s Eve and it’s on the 31st of December obviously. The big deal is to stay up past midnight to wish everybody happy new year. It’s very frequently that people will have a glass of champagne or something like that or some kind of thing like that. My son always has bubbly apple juice. I mean, but it is a kind of special toast to bring in the new year. And that is also a time where we have fireworks. In non-COVID times, the city usually hosts a big party downtown, where there are bands playing and dancing in the street. And even if it’s cold and rainy, people go, they just dress warmly, have a lot of fun and wish each other happy new year. So that sort of takes you around the year. New Year’s Day also is a holiday. That sort of takes you around the year and some of the things that you might see, but I thought I’d like to talk just for a couple minutes more about some things about Canada in general. So Canada is very multicultural. People have come here from all over. In my city, about half the people who live here didn’t start out speaking English, they spoke a different language. They spoke Spanish or Portuguese or Chinese or Hindu, or they spoke all different languages from all different parts of the world. And they are here now, so of course they speak usually English or French if you go to Quebec, but it just is a signal of how many people come from how many places. One of my colleagues who works in one of the colleges in Toronto said they counted up one time and they had students there who came from 99 different cultural backgrounds. Some of them were born in Canada. Many, many, many of them were born overseas and came to Canada as young children. So we not only celebrate those holidays I told you, but I’ll tell you some other things that go on here in my city and across the country. For example, Chinese New Year is a big deal in Vancouver. There’s a big parade. People come from all across the city to come and watch the parade, not just people of Chinese descent, from all different descents, ’cause it’s so much fun and it’s so colorful and everybody feels like it’s something that they wanna celebrate too. Toronto is really famous for a Caribbean Day that they have with a big parade and people coming to watch dancers and very colorful performances. We have festivals here in my part of the country that celebrate various festivals, Sikh festival and Hindu festivals, again, with parades and drummers and all kinds of other people from the community come to watch and to celebrate with them. And it’s really not unusual at all to see big regiments of men in kilts with bag pipes coming down the street in a parade. In fact, that’s from Scotland, right? But in fact, I’ve been into dinners where the lead speaker or the prime minister is coming to talk or a premier or something. And the way you know that the big party, the honored guests are coming is the first thing that comes in is a guy in a kilt playing a bagpipe, piping them into their table. So all of these different things come from different backgrounds. In many, many activities, now we have First Nations. In my case, a Squamish nation has somebody who comes to make a welcome and they speak in the Squamish language, and they have a drum and they welcome everybody to the activity. So my last little story I wanna say is we’re so used to living in cities that have people from all over the place that actually people don’t worry if you have an accent, people don’t worry if you’re not totally confident in English. I once had a student at UBC who was from Japan and he said, “I don’t think that Canadians are very friendly.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because nobody ever asked me where I’m from.” Well, they don’t ask you where you’re from because they assume you’re Canadian because Canadians come from all different kinds of backgrounds. My daughter did study abroad in Denmark and I was going to visit her. And she called me two days before. And she said, “Mom, I really want you to come, but you have to bring me some things.” And I said, “Sure, what do you want?” And she says, “Well, I need some buttered chicken from this Indian and restaurant we go to. I want some sushi from this other restaurant. Please bring me some Szechuan eggplant from a third restaurant and bring me some burritos from a Mexican fourth restaurant.” She said, “I’m so used to eating food from people from all over the world and I don’t get the same thing here.” That’s very deeply ingrained in the culture here. I don’t know if we have really our own cuisine in Canada. I guess if you come here, somebody’s gonna give you some barbecued salmon but what for sure we have is a real appreciation of cuisines from all over the world. So it’s not just French and English here. It’s people from all over and you are really welcome here. It’ll be great to meet you.


– Catherine, thank you. That was such a great overview of all the different traditions and holidays. And for students coming for a work and study program in Canada, which a lot of the listeners of the show are interested in. They’re likely gonna be in Canada for a whole year, at least, maybe longer if they’re on a pathway to immigration and that gives them an opportunity to go through each of these holidays. So it’s great now that we have shared with everybody what they can expect. And I think you said, if you’re invited, say yes and I would say that’s true for all of the holidays, not just birthdays, everything, right? You wanna join in to whatever opportunities you have to celebrate Canadian holidays and traditions, ’cause that’s where you get to know more about life here and really get to understand people and their origins and their roots. And there’s so many, as you said, cultures here and so many opportunities to celebrate holidays, even Canadian holidays with a different twist. Everybody does it a little differently. I have Filipino friends and they celebrate Canadian holidays, but always with Filipino food. And it’s so nice to attend one of their parties because the food is incredible and it’s so wonderful.


– Yeah, that’s great. That’s right.


– Lots of food. Yeah, well, thank you, Catherine. It’s been great having you back on the show.


– Thank so much. I really encourage your listeners to think about coming to Canada. It’s actually a very welcoming place. You will not feel out a place, but just remember because nobody asks you where you’re from, it’s ’cause they think you’re Canadian.


– That’s all for this week’s episode of Work and Study in Canada brought to you by Tamwood Careers. Tamwood is a private education company operating career colleges in Toronto, Vancouver and Whistler, Canada. Tamwood offers popular work and study programs in fields like business, hospitality and tourism, digital marketing, web design, UX/UI, and entrepreneurship. International students who study with Tamwood gained valuable work experience in Canada and start on a pathway to a successful career and immigration in Canada. If you’d like more information about Tamwood and its programs, visit our website, You can also check out our videos on YouTube and connect with us on social at Facebook, Instagram, and link.