Short days, long winters, terribly cold. Canada is “more rigorous than Siberiathe geographer’s polar values do not lie [1]1Cahiers de géographie du Québec
Le Nord et l'hiver dans l'hémisphère boréal
. Neither does Gilles Vigneault’s poetry.

Ma maison ce n’est pas ma maison c’est froidure
Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays c’est l’hiver

My house is not my house, it is coldness
My country is not a country, it is winter
Gilles Vigneault, 1965 [2]2Cap-aux-Diamants
Mon pays c’est l’hiver

It took a special word to describe the Canadian North in its physical, identity, mythical and even political dimensions: “nordicity” [3]3Études internationales
La nordicité : nouveau mythe canado-québécois de politique étrangère
[4]4Cahiers de géographie du Québec
10 Idées pour le Nord : un manifeste pour la nordicité

To get through winter one must truly be dazed by a few lights and a few celebrations.


Christmas Lights

The brightest of these festivals is without doubt Christmas, which is also a solstice festival:

“[…] Christian theology conveyed the theme of Christ as the ‘light of the world’ very early on. This likely led Church authorities to substitute Christian celebrations bearing on the birth of the ‘light of the world’ for pagan festivals relating to solar worship. In 354, Pope Liberius managed to impose the feast of the Nativity on the same day pagan Rome had celebrated the victorious sun.”Yvan Fortier, 1996 [5]5Cap-aux-Diamants
Une fête venue de la nuit des temps : Le 25 décembre

It is a feast of light and of human warmth whose meaning survives its commercialization. In this great fair that is the modern festival, we often see a conscious effort to recover the meaning of gift and on Christmas Eve we search for the meaning of a meal with the people you love” [6]6Recherches sociographiques
Le temps et la fête dans la vie sociale

What do we eat together? Tradition and invigorating solace. For a traditional Christmas, we serve meat pie and cretons [7]7CuiZine
Tourtière and Cretons: Celebratory French-Canadian Meat Dishes in Today’s New England
, stew, walnut squares and doughnuts, recipes included [8]8Cap-aux-Diamants
Au menu du réveillon

Sample of the Eaton Christmas catalogue of 196? on Colour enhancement by Cyril Doisneau, 2017.

And to whom do we give? The children of course. Although it was not always so. Children at Christmas were supplicants before being spoiled [9]9Ethnologies
Noël, de l’enfant quêteur à l’enfant gâté : le sens d’un passage
. One also gives to the poorest who suffer more from the weather and, particularly in the past, from the seasonality of work [10]10Historical Papers
The Winter’s Tale: The Seasonal Contours of Pre‑industrial Poverty in British North America, 1815‑1860
. Enlightened philanthropy, however, that does little to change the temperature of one’s own social enclave:

But Christmas time also becomes a pretext for enlightened philanthropy, animated by the spirit of Christmas. Charles Dickens was the eulogist. His famous A Christmas Carol, published in London in 1843, defined this spirit as a mixture of compassion and sharing, where ‘the mobilizing force of sympathy’ is greater than the spirit of revolt. The spirit of Christmas is also a glorification of the family and privacy which was in the process of construction at the same time in England.Martyne Perrot, 2007 [9]9Ethnologies
Noël, de l’enfant quêteur à l’enfant gâté : le sens d’un passage


Carnivals and Shrove Tuesday

If you live in Newfoundland, you might perhaps take up mummering during the 12 days of Christmas and go from house to house in a masked group [11]11Newfoundland and Labrador Studies
Mummers and Real Strangers: The Effect of Diminished Isolation on Newfoundland Christmas House Visiting
«Making Cool Things Hot Again»: Blackface and Newfoundland Mummering»
,  [13]13Newfoundland and Labrador Studies
The Mummers Song in Newfoundland: Intellectuals, Revivalists and Cultural Nativism
. This is another way to warm up the winter.

Simani, The Mummers Song, 1983.

Carnival-like festivities offer a happy outlet, a kind of Saturnalia [for] the people, tired of deprivation” [14]14Port Acadie
Fonction sociale de la mi-carême à Natashquan
. Traditions from Europe have to a certain extent survived since humans are particularly faithful to a rite that marks the death of the winter” [15]15Études françaises
Carnaval : fête, révolte, spectacle. Pour une histoire

Carnival, however, has undergone gentrification in large cities. The Montreal Carnival, for example, went through five iterations between 1883 and 1889:

“[F]rom the outset, this celebration of sport was clearly associated with economic objectives and tourism. In addition to enabling sports clubs to meet, the carnival was supposed to stimulate the city’s economy during the off-season by attracting foreign visitors and place Montreal advantageously on the American and Canadian tourism map.”Sylvie Dufresne, 2001 [16]16Cap-aux-Diamants
1883-1889 : Quand Montréal avait son carnaval!

It was necessary even then to “Put Montreal on the map”.

After several versions at the end of the nineteenth century, also controlled by business interests [17]17Ethnologies
La « Revengeance » des duchesses: Une mise en scène carnavalesque hors Carnaval
, the Quebec Winter Carnival returned in 1954, in response to the same wishes:

The current formula for the Carnival began in 1954 thanks to the initiative of businessmen who formed the Carnival Committee. They wanted to promote the economy during the off-peak period of the winter, after Christmas and the New Year. Ramp up tourism in winter season, stimulate regional trade, animate a usually calm period and multiply social, artistic, and recreational events; these were the objectives pursued from the beginning.” François Hulbert, 1971 [18]18Cahiers de géographie du Québec
Le rayonnement et l’impact économique du Carnaval de Québec

“Folklore and tourism, however, did not empty Carnival of all substance. Here and there, community groups held carnivals during which, for a few hours or a few days of ‘Happy Times’, they indulged in excess, license, and feasting” [15]15Études françaises
Carnaval : fête, révolte, spectacle. Pour une histoire
. In Quebec, we know how to subvert the official image of this Carnival [that] also seeks to be a tourist campaign for the promotion of ‘Winter in Quebec'” [19]19Ethnologies
«Carnaval» et «Décarnaval» ou la culture irréversible : Expérience de terrain pendant le Carnaval de Québec Kellogg’s, 1998-2000
. Numerous attempts have been made to remind others that the festival, in order to succeed, must be first and foremost social. Far from the tourist concerns of the Quebec Winter Carnival, there is a need for a Carnival that is by the people and for the people” [17]17Ethnologies
La « Revengeance » des duchesses: Une mise en scène carnavalesque hors Carnaval

Translated by Peter Keating.