Haligonians come together, sharing beloved traditions and making new ones
by Heidi Tattrie-Rushton
If you walk through any store in Halifax between Halloween and January, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only holiday celebrated is Christmas. But Halifax’s population has been steadily diversifying for decades and we’ve become a more multicultural and multifaith community.
Learning about how other cultures celebrate this time of year presents an incredible opportunity for families to connect to the wider community and expand their understanding of the world.
In the Halifax Buddhist community, Children’s Day is celebrated on the eve of the winter solstice in December. There is a candlelight ceremony in the evening and then the children go home to eagerly wait for a visit from the royal couple, who traditionally leave gifts for the children to find when they wake up in the morning.
Michelle Munro, a Halifax mother of two, says her children look forward to the candlelight ceremony where families in the community gather to celebrate together each year.
“It’s a lovely celebration in sync with the natural world, family, warmth, and everyday magic,” she says. “The short dark days will get longer again and the light returns.”
Munro says every family is different in terms of what the king and queen might leave for the children but, in her household, they receive a small gift, typically something that emphasizes and encourages quality time for the family.
“It’s usually a game people can play together or something we can create together,” she says, adding that another special part of the day is the food. “My husband’s family tradition is to do a big brunch, rather than a turkey. Many families I know do the same,” she says. “It’s a feast of the senses!”
Guy Fawkes Day
Ruth Nilsson, mother of two in Windsor Junction, has many fond memories of growing up in Scotland and celebrating Guy Fawkes Day with her family. Guy Fawkes was part of a plot to blow up the British Houses of Parliament, but he was arrested while guarding
the explosives, foiling the plan.
In the U.K. (and in Newfoundland where they call it Bonfire Day), people remember this event each year on Nov. 5, marking the anniversary with bonfires and fireworks.
Nilsson says when she was growing up the children built effigies of Guy Fawkes to burn on the bonfire and then went door-to-door with their creations. “It was a huge celebration. You would go around and ask for a penny for the Guy,” she says. Special autumn treats and campfire foods are part of the holiday fun too. Nilsson remembers that a friend’s mother even baked a special cake and decorated it to look like a bonfire.
While some celebrate it here in Nova Scotia, it’s not nearly as popular as it is in the U.K. She keeps the tradition alive here with her sons, however, by joining forces with another local family from Newfoundland, and having a big bonfire and fireworks on the day.
In Stephanie Miller’s home in Upper Tantallon, her two children eagerly await Sinterklaas, a Dutch holiday at the start of December that she and her Canadian husband celebrate with their Belgian-born children.
“Sinterklaas is just for children. My kids leave their clogs out on the fifth and they receive small gifts and treats, usually a chocolate letter of their name, on the sixth of December,” she explains. “We then celebrate the day with a traditional Belgian meal of boulettes and frites.”
Sinterklaas is where the name Santa Claus came from; the origination of the holiday is the celebration of St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6, although most of the excitement and fun happens on the eve of the actual day.
Miller says they celebrate Christmas as well, but for them that day is a family day and a much quieter holiday while Sinterklaas is focused completely on the children.
Day of the Dead
Claudia Castro of Dartmouth is the mother of two children and originally from Ecuador. She moved here about seven years ago and says that the Day of the Dead (Nov. 2) is an important holiday in her home country and her culture. She observes the holiday with special food and drink. “We celebrate with a typical drink called colada morada which is made from purple corn, fruits, cinnamon sticks and sugar,” Castro says. “We also make a sweet bread in the shape of human figures called guaguas de pan.”
This holiday is a joyful one as they believe the deceased loved ones awake on this day to celebrate with them. Castro says in the highlands of Ecuador many indigenous people still decorate the graves and tombs of those who are no longer with them and bring special foods to the cemeteries to share.
Eid Milad un Nabi
Emad Aziz is the father of two children in Halifax. He says that, as a Muslim family, Eid Milad un Nabi (Mawlid in Arabic) is their focus. This is a celebration of the birthday of Prophet Muhammad.
“The actual birthday is unknown since the Islamic calendar begins when the Prophet migrated to Medina from Mecca, and not when he was born,” he says. “Various opinions exist on an estimated birthday.”
Because the Islamic calendar is different than the Western one, the dates of Eid are different each year. This year it occurs in November. Aziz says that the Prophet never actually celebrated his own birthday, so the practice came into being after his death. Now people around the world celebrate Eid Milad un Nabi in many ways.
“[It is recognized] through processions, prayers, fasting, poems, speeches and na’ats [hymns] that romanticize the Prophet, his attributes and the message of Islam,” Aziz says. “Feasts are held, charity is given to the needy and people decorate homes, shops and streets with lights and colours akin to Christmas festivities.”
His family uses the time to focus on the special people in their life. “Typically, we celebrate by connecting with family and friends who are away. There is a special treat and we invite local friends to dinner,” Aziz says. “We talk about Islamic history with the kids, so they are aware of its significance, and the Prophetic attributes such as kindness and charity that all Muslims are encouraged to follow.”
This theme of family connection, sharing meals together and giving generously is one that many cultures connect with at this time of year with their celebrations, including other special holidays that local residents enjoy such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Christmas, and Yule.