My First Christmas in Canada Was Not Postcard-Perfect But I Fought the Blues Away

My first Christmas in Canada was quiet, relaxing, and different.  But this made me quite sad.

There truly is no place like home, especially during the Christmas season.  I am writing from the point of view of a Filipino immigrant. But, I am sure that a part of it will resonate with all immigrants.

In this post, I will tell you about my first Christmas in Canada. I will share my reflections on the differences between Filipino and Canadian Christmases.  I will also share easy ways to cope with holiday blues. 

My First Christmas in Canada

I arrived in Canada in September 2011 and became a client of the social services agency, S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a few weeks after. In December 2011, I was invited to their Filipino Christmas party.  I did not know any other attendee except for one of their staff members.  Plus, I was awkward at networking.  But I was glad to accept the invitation. 

I immensely enjoyed the songs and dances that reminded me of home.  I happily sampled their Filipino dishes. But when they started singing Filipino Christmas carols, my tears started to well up. 

If you read my bio, you would know that I have been used to living away from home since I was 12 years old.  I have never felt homesick from that time on until I heard those familiar melodies.

Still, I tried to create a semblance of the Christmas celebration that I know.  On Christmas eve, I went to hear mass.  I had dinner and exchange gifts with my Filipino circles on the 24th and 25th.  Then, Christmas was suddenly over.  The next day, Canada went abuzz because of Boxing Day sales.  On the 27th, many people went back to work.  Some took only a short break a few days after to welcome the New Year, if at all.

Lafarge Lake Lights

Differentiating Factors

This is far different from the Christmas that I know. I believe that there are several factors that contribute to the differences.

1. Concept of Family Unit

One stark difference between Filipinos and many people in Canada is the concept of a basic family unit. 

In the Philippines, a family may include extended family.  For example, the term cousin does not exclusively describe the relationship between the children of siblings.  It is not uncommon to be introduced to a distant cousin who is the daughter of your mom’s second-degree cousin.  In effect, you may be told that you are related to half of the residents of a block.  This means family celebrations are huge. 

In contrast, the average Canadian family is described in the Cultural Atlas as a couple and their immediate children.  Also, Statista reveals that the average Canadian household in 2018 consisted of 2.9 people.

Naturally, family celebrations will look different based on these concepts and numbers alone.

2. Affinity to Society

For Filipinos, Christmas is the best time to hold reunions with family, friends, and even high school batchmates.  In fact, many Filipinos who work or reside abroad fly home during this special time of the year.  You may then be invited to several parties in December.  Sometimes, you may be invited to several parties that happen on the same day.

Many Canadians also hold Christmas parties but not the way that Filipinos do. But it is less grand and more quiet.

Light Displays at Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam
3. Religion

Christmas is a Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus. 

According to a post published by the Asia Society, the Philippines is the only Christian nation in Asia. Christmas is, therefore, a very important time in the country.   In fact, the country is known to have one of the longest, if not the longest, Christmas celebrations in the world.  Filipinos start putting up Christmas decors and playing Christmas carols as soon as the “Ber” months start.

In contrast, the 2018 Pew Research Center survey shows that 55% of Canadian adults (55%) identify as Christian.  The same survey reveals that a declining share of Canadians identify as Christians, while an increasing share says they have no religion.

This huge difference in numbers may best explain the varying importance given to Christmas. 

4. Other Big Celebrations Leading to Christmas Day

In the Philippines, the month of December brings respite and even excitement.  The last event before Christmas that serves as a reunion for families is All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  Also, the rainy season which happens from June to November often brings destructive typhoons.  By December, people are already in a celebratory mood.

In Canada, there are big festivities during the months leading to Christmas.  Canadian Thanksgiving happens on the second Monday of October.  Halloween follows shortly after on October 31.  Then Remembrance Day is observed on November 11.

It is not uncommon to see people raise eyebrows at Christmas decors put up before Remembrance Day.  Canadians deeply honor the men and women who have served and sacrificed for the country.  So, some people feel that preparing for Christmas before November 11 is a sign of disrespect for veterans. 

Christmas decorations
Window Display At Hudson’s Bay in Toronto
5. Culture, Habits, and Preference

Filipinos love to party. Filipino parties will not be complete without the singing, dancing, and loud chatters. These parties can last until the wee hours of the morning.  Christmas carolers who return to your home every day are a staple in almost every Filipino neighborhood.  Also, firecrackers and fireworks can be lit by regular citizens.  Back home, annoyed neighbors may just have to bear it and try to go to sleep in pure agony.

Canadians enjoy a peaceful, quiet, and pleasant environment.  A quick search shows the noise bylaw of the three most populated Canadian cities: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.  The sale and use of fireworks in Canada are regulated through Firework Acts or Bylaws.  A bylaw officer will not hesitate to be a party pooper.  Plus, people living in a Strata property are expected to follow its bylaws and rules including restrictions on noise and strong odors.

5. Practical Reasons

The lengthy Christmas celebrations in the Philippines make decorating worth it.  In Canada, I feel that some traditions are not practical because you only have a day or two to celebrate.  For example, it takes me at least half a day to decorate my tree and another half to put the decors away.

Christmas decors in Vancouver
Huge Christmas balls in front of Park Place in Vancouver

Coping With Holiday Blues

REMINDER:  This post was published during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Public health guidelines should be followed at all times.  What follows are general suggestions that can be done virtually or in-person when safe. 

1. Connect with family and friends

Getting in touch with loved ones top my list of ways to fight holiday blues and homesickness.  I find talking about everything and nothing with little kids especially therapeutic.  I mean, who stays sad after hearing children’s laughter and seeing their funny antics?

2. Expand your network

Networking is great for one’s career.  In fact, I got my first job in Canada through networking. But it is also an effective way to widen your personal core group. 

The holiday season is a great time to meet people.  Places of worship, towns and cities, alumni associations, immigrant-serving organizations, and many other groups often host festive events.  Also, there would be a higher demand for volunteers at impactful organizations

People are especially cheerful and friendly during the holiday, so networking will not be as intimidating.

Vancouver Christmas Market
Vancouver Christmas Market
3. Attend Christmas events

During the holiday season, there is no shortage of fun events.  Watch out for parades, festivals of lights, and Christmas markets.  You may also want to check out hotels as they host events during the holidays.  You may also participate in events in your local library.  Many of these fun events are free of charge.

Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley
4. Explore your new country

Canada is a beautiful country, and it becomes magical when the snow falls.  Bundle up and take a leisurely walk in your neighborhood.  Even your local park will look different with a dusting of snow.  Some private homes are featured on TV or social media for their spectacular decorations. 

If you want to stay indoors, visiting museums would be an amazing way of learning about your new country.

Vancouver Canucks Game at Rogers Arena
5. Try a new hobby or activity

The holiday season offers opportunities to try something new.

Skiing, snowshoeing, and ice hockey might appeal to the adventurer in you.  Tubing can also be an enjoyable and less intense winter activity.  Building a snowman, making a snow angel, or sledding can be a novel experience. Even walking on fresh snow can be fun.

For those who want to stay warm and dry, preparing Canadian food might be a great idea. How about some poutine or Nanaimo bar?

6. Bonus:  Plan Your Activities for the New Year

There are many festivities that happen around New Year such as amazing fireworks displays.  There are also fascinating events such as the Polar Bear Swim.

Polar Bear Swim on New Year’s Day in Vancouver

My first Christmas in Canada was not what postcards are made of. I did not make s’mores with my family while watching the snow fall.  Neither did I play board games with my friends while drinking icewine by the fireplace.  But I adjusted to the quiet, relaxing, and different Canadian Christmas. Maybe the magical snow or warm fireplace chased the blues away.

I hope your first Christmas in Canada is filled with peace, joy, and contentment. I hope the years after will fulfill your dreams. Cheers!

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