I had two new firsts this holiday season: 1) It was my first time in Canada and 2) it was my first time really celebrating Christmas.
I’ve decided I like both Canada and Christmas.
Gatien and I drove up to his hometown of Ottawa a few days before Christmas and stayed with his family there until just before New Years Eve. I’m not sure what I was expecting out of Canada…I’ve met a lot of Canadians throughout my travels and I like to think I’ve gotten good at differentiating between them and Americans (We’re louder, they’re chiller. They’re more likely to have tattoos and piercings. We wear uglier shoes. They’re more likely to be traveling solo…)
I guess I associated Canada with snow, maple syrup, nice people, and socialized healthcare. I wasn’t wrong. Canada is definitely those things. But in the end, I think we’re more similar than we are different. (Duh, right?)
We share a similar historical context (with the native peoples and the Europeans), the same language, customs… And North America up there still looks like North America down here, for the most part. (Minus the polar bears.)
The food was BOMB
While in Ottawa, I ate a lot of REALLY DELICIOUS HOMEMADE FOOD. Gatien’s mom, Catherine, is an extraordinary chef. I had had a taste of the French home cooking life while visiting various members of Gatien’s extended family in France this past summer (like the time his aunt and uncle butchered and prepared two of their chickens for lunch), but I think spending a week with his mom takes the cake – all puns intended 😉
We woke up in the mornings to homemade bread topped with homemade strawberry jam and clementine jelly, alongside a steaming mug of homemade mint tea. Then lunch was something delicious like beef stewed with carrots on top of al dente pasta, followed by homemade banana bread/cake and coconut flan, then coffee and tea to close.
Christmas lunch was a freakin Christmas miracle: olive-encrusted bread and smoked salmon with capers and dill jelly for an appetizer, then roasted chicken and vegetables, then a chocolate “log” made of layers of chocolate cake and ganache, topped with ganache, then of course coffee and tea.
Contrary to what many of us think of as “French food”, it wasn’t about being fancy and complicated. It was about using simple, fresh ingredients to create balanced and tasty meals. Like the time Catherine cut potatoes in half, sprinkled some sea salt, and stuck them in the oven. That was it. Then you sort of mush them into the juices from the meat and it’s like…WOW.
It’s no wonder Gatien has developed the appreciation for food (and dining rituals) that he has.
I get why people like Christmas
If you’ve ever seen my Bat Mitzvah slideshow vid you’ll know I used to sing in a Christmas choir when I was in 5th grade. Yes, I memorized dance routines to “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus” and “Jingle Bell Rock” and I took my snapping, stepping, and clapping in my puffy dress and Christmas ribbons very seriously.
Anyways, I’ve always enjoyed a Christmas tune or two (OR TEN BILLION THANK YOU EVERY RETAIL STORE EVER) around the holiday season.
But when it comes to Christmas Eve and Day, I’ve almost always done things the Jewish way: with Chinese food and a movie and/or 10 hours of The Tenth Kingdom in the Eisenberg’s living room. Great memories, those.
So it turns out on Christmas, you decorate a tree, eat wonderful food (see above), and exchange gifts. I did these things in Ottawa and I totally get the appeal. My Christian friends who have grown up doing this stuff are probably laughing right now but try to remember what it felt like to plug in your Christmas lights for the first time. It’s magical.
Canada is cold as sh**
Yeah so…Canada is cold as shit. This was no Koh Phangan Christmas.
I can’t imagine growing up in a place where you wear snow boots many months of the year. And you have to worry about shoveling or snow blowing your driveway all the time. Rivers freeze over and you skate on them. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing are casual sports. You can sled down the neighborhood sledding hill on the weekend. I just can’t imagine that life.
The Ottawa winter that I witnessed was beautiful at times – like the day it snow stormed and we snowshoed through a winter wonderland forest and sang Frozen songs. But nasty at others – like the day it ice rained and we skipped and slid our way home from a movie while braving the icy sidewalks. But either way, it’s very cold and thus for me, only bearable in small quantities.
Related: Winter Travel Packing Tips
Staying inside a lot wasn’t so bad. I got to talk with Patrice and Catherine, Gatien’s parents, and sing harmonies with his sister. Agathe’s bunny even came out for a cuddle.
Yeah Canada is crazy cold, but I still wanna see those polar bears. I think I’ll add a few Canadian spots to my bucket list for next time. Churchill, Niagra Falls, Quebec City, and Banff National Park are all calling to me from under their blankets of snow…
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