December 31, 2020

December 31, 2020

An Ice-Cold Finish to the Season

The traditional end of the Christmas season in Orthodox Christian countries is the Epiphany/Theophany, celebrated on either January 6th or January 19th, commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan.

A tradition popular in countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia is for young men to swim in ice cold water – rivers, lakes, or the sea – in order to retrieve a wooden cross that has been thrown in the water. The first to reach the cross is believed to have good health and good luck for the rest of the year, making it quite a popular competition. Priests also blessed and then used for a variety of purposes through the year, such as blessing the homes of parishioners.

December 30, 2020

December 30, 2020

The Old and New New Year

The holiday season doesn’t reach an end until after we welcome the New Year!

Although varying somewhat, the custom in countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Serbia, has been to exchange presents on New Year’s. This phenomenon can be traced back to those former communist governments strongly encouraging the celebration of New Year’s as a direct replacement of Christmas. Today, when to exchange gifts and to what extent New Year’s is important may depend on one’s own family tradition – and other factors, such as when and why one’s family ended up in emigrating and joining the diaspora.

Additionally, in Greece (as in other Orthodox countries), New Year’s also coincides with the celebration of St. Basil’s day. Indeed, the custom has also been to exchange gifts on this day, rather than on Christmas – as it is when Agios Vasilis (or Saint Basil) makes his rounds. At the centre of a vast array of traditions is a special bread called vasilopita. Baked into the vasilopita, as with other holiday breads (in particular the Serbian) previously discussed, is a coin. Whoever receives the coin in their piece can expect to have especially good luck that year. 

As we discussed with the post on calendars, many of these aforementioned countries (as well as others) also have the tradition of celebrating the “Old New Year” – that is, January 14th per the Old or Julian Calendar. In Russia and Ukraine, this traditional holiday is called “Malanka,” a holiday celebrated by the Ukrainian diaspora in particular.

December 29, 2020

December 29, 2020

Winter in Lakeview Park, 1937. From the Oshawa Museum’s archival collection.


December 28, 2020

December 28, 2020

On this day, December 28:

418 – A papal conclave begins, resulting in the election of Pope Boniface I.

1065 – Edward the Confessor’s Romanesque monastic church at Westminster Abbey is consecrated.

1308 – The reign of Emperor Hanazono of Japan begins.

1795 – Construction of Yonge Street, formerly recognized as the longest street in the world, begins in York, Upper Canada (present-day Toronto).

1832 – John C. Calhoun becomes the first Vice President of the United States to resign.

1836 – South Australia and Adelaide are founded.

1836 – Spain recognizes the independence of Mexico with the signing of the Santa María–Calatrava Treaty.

1846 – Iowa is admitted as the 29th U.S. state.

1879 – Tay Bridge disaster: The central part of the Tay Rail Bridge in Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom collapses as a train passes over it, killing 75.

1885 – Indian National Congress, a political party of India, is founded in Bombay Presidency, British India.

1895 – Wilhelm Röntgen publishes a paper detailing his discovery of a new type of radiation, which later will be known as x-rays.

1912 – The first municipally owned streetcars take to the streets in San Francisco.

1918 – Constance Markievicz, while detained in Holloway prison, became the first woman to be elected MP to the British House of Commons.

1943 – World War II: After eight days of brutal house-to-house fighting, the Battle of Ortona concludes with the victory of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division over the German 1st Parachute Division and the capture of the Italian town of Ortona. The Ontario Regiment saw action during the Italian campaign.

1944 – Maurice Richard becomes the first player to score eight points in one game of NHL ice hockey.

1989 – A magnitude 5.6 earthquake hits Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, killing 13 people.

2014 – Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 crashes into the Karimata Strait en route from Surabaya to Singapore, killing all 162 people aboard.

December 28 is the birthday of

1763 – John Molson, English-Canadian brewer, founded the Molson Brewery (d. 1836)

1842 – Calixa Lavallée, Canadian-American lieutenant and composer (d. 1891) – they composed our national anthem, O Canada

1943 – David Peterson, Canadian lawyer and politician, 20th Premier of Ontario

December 28th is also the fourth day of Christmas, as per the carol, and ‘My True Love’ gifted four colly birds

Information from

December 27, 2020

December 27, 2020

It was reported in The Globe that on Christmas morning, 1928, the Kinsmen Club of Oshawa gave a party for children at the Regent Theatre. “Candy, nuts, and oranges will be distributed, while the kiddies will be invited to remain for a free moving picture show.” There was over $2600 donated for this event, and Oshawa’s Christmas Cheer Committee went about distributing food and clothing to those in need in Oshawa. The Boy Scouts also contributed the these charitable initiatives by gathering and mending broken toys.

‘Boy Scouts Do Their Bit,’ The Globe, December 25, 1928, page 14.

December 26, 2020

December 26, 2020

In the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries in the Commonwealth, December 26 is a statutory holiday, celebrated as Boxing Day.

The origins of this holiday are based in England, where ‘boxing’ referred to the distribution of small gifts of money.  Some historians trace this back to the Middle Ages when parish priests would open up alms-boxes on December 26, the feast of St. Stephen, and distribute the money collected within to the needy.  By the 17th century, this tradition of giving boxes of money to adopt the practice of saving tips they had been given in clay boxes and opening them on December 26.  Because of the popularity of this tradition, people had taken to calling the day Boxing Day, and it was declared a holiday in England in 1871.  By the late 19th century, the custom of ‘boxing’ had faced a decline and slowly disappeared from the English holiday customs.

The day itself has survived as a holiday, and for many it may signify the day to ‘throw away boxes that presents came in,’ for others, it is a day for major savings in stores (the Canadian equivalent to America’s Black Friday), or perhaps it is a day many will spend with family, relaxing after a busy Christmas Day.

In parts of Europe, such as Hungary, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic, December 26 is celebrated as a second Christmas Day, and it is also the Feast of St. Stephen. This is the date mentioned in the lyrics to Good King Wenceslas: Good King Wenceslas looked out, On the Feast of Stephen, When the snow lay ’round about, Deep and crisp and even.

December 25, 2020

December 25, 2020

To all those who celebrate, Merry Christmas!

Canada is large, diverse nation, and the holidays are often celebrated differently in our various regions.

For example, in Newfoundland, you could go mummering.  This tradition involves groups dressing up in costumes and often masks and travelling door to door spreading cheer.  If the mummers are welcomed into a house, they might partake in informal performances, including dance, music, jokes, or recitations.  Because the mummers are disguised, the hosts will have to guess their identity before offering them food or drink; the hosts will try many ways to get the mummers to reveal who they are, and in turn, the mummers go to great lengths to disguise their true identities.  Once guessed, the mummers will stay and visit with the hosts, before moving onto another home.

The earliest recording of mummering in Newfoundland dates to 1819, however it is likely to have taken place earlier.

réveillon often takes place on Christmas Eve in Quebec and other French speaking places in Canada.  This long dinner typically involves family and can last into the early hours of Christmas Day.

The Inuit peoples of Canada typically celebrate Sinck Tuck at this time of the year.  This celebration happens around the solstice and consists of dancing, gift giving, and feasts.

As for our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, he will likely spend the day celebrating his birthday.

December 24, 2020

December 24, 2020

Every year, on Christmas Eve, we share the classic poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore, originally published in 1823.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,

With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

December 23, 2020

December 23, 2020

This article originally appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator, December 24, 1862. To read about Polly Ann Henry, please visit the Oshawa Museum Blog.

Polly and George Henry

(For the Oshawa Vindicator)
A Hint for the Season
By Mrs. P.A. Henry

Winter has once again folded his snowy drapery over the fields, and riveted his icy chains upon the noisy streams.  Once again the fierce storm howls among the leafless branches of the trees

Winter has once again folded his snowy drapery over the fields, and riveted his icy chains upon the noisy streams. Once again the fierce storm howls among the leafless branches of the trees, and shrieks around the doors of our closed dwellings. All is apparent desolation; but Nature has not forgotten her offspring, and folded in downy buds, or wrapt in shining scales, or hidden in dormant bulbs beneath the frozen soil, the embryo of next year’s vegetation sleep, unharmed by frost or tempest. Thus are Nature’s little children cared for. The denizens of the animal kingdom are not less provident. The birds have sought a more congenial home, or hidden themselves in the thickets and mossy coverts. The squirrel has prepared a snug retreat, and gathered up his Winter store of grain. 

It is not strange, then, that we surround ourselves with all the comforts available in this inclement season, that we make our houses warm, and prepare thick garments against the cold, cold days. But oh! when our dear ones are collected around us in our cheery rooms, and we gather nearer to the blazing fire, do we think of the desolate abodes of poverty. Do we think of the cheerless homes, where Winter brings only destitution and suffering? Do we think of the little shivering forms crouching around the decaying embers? – of the naked feet and unprotected limbs, aching with the bitter cold, while hunger gnaws at the very vitals? Even among those who hide poverty as an unwelcome guest in the secrecy of their narrow homes, much untold suffering exists. Many, after months of unremitting toil, with dismay see Winter come upon them, while their preparations are still inadequate to defend themselves and their little ones against its severity.

O ye children of wealth! ye who wrapped in down and fur defy the Iceking’s sharpest breath, remember the poor! Not with an abstract pity or useless compassion; but with practical kindness. Go to your closets and garrets, and look out the faded, outgrown, and old-fashioned garments, and distribute them among the needy. Think how many articles are growing moth eaten and mouldy in your homes of abundance which might be yielding warmth and comfort, and bringing gladness to desolate hearts. But this is not enough. It is a small virtue to give that for which we have no use. Take to yourselves no gratulations on account of your benevolence, until you have denied yourselves some luxury for the sake of suffering humanity.

Professing Christians! Ye who hoard your gold or deem your duty to humanity all done, when you have given your dollar into the missionary fund, for the benefit of the children of sunny India, or the islands of the tropic seas, think how many little ones within sight of your own homes shiver with the cold, or hunger for those morsels which are wasted at your door. Divide your abundant store with them, and remember that “hear that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.”

Men in power! Councilman and magistrates! Ye who oversee the public weal – who take cognisance of roads and bridges, and gather up the license revenue – the price of the traffic which makes the drunkard’s family hungry and cold; have ye cared for the poor? Have you made provision for them against the Winter’s cold? Is there a portion set aside for them? Is there a place where the homeless ones can find refuge, a table where the hungry may be fed?

We boast our land of plenty, and say there is room enough, and food enough for all. And there [   ]. But do you all have it? There is undoubtedly less suffering from poverty in this country than most others, but if we look carefully about us, we shall see that there is more of destitution and want even here, than we should like to experience ourselves. The poor we shall probably always have with us. There is ignorance and vice in the world; and some are unfitted by mental incapacity, and others by physical inability, for the task of obtaining a comfortable subsistence. Yet though much of this may be their own fault, that does not absolve individuals or communities, from the duty of caring for all the suffering sons and daughters of our common humanity.

Bowmanville, Dec. 15th, 1862.

December 22, 2020

December 22, 2020
Advertisement from the Ontario Reformer, December 26, 1873, page 1