26 December

Typical Seigniorial fort - Fort Rémy, Lachine, 1671

Christmas Celebrations Begin in Seigniory

In early Canada a good part of what is now the Province of Quebec was divided into seigniories. Every seignior was required to build a mill to which his tenants had to bring their grain to be ground into flour. The seignior was entitled to one-fourteenth of the grain. He could also claim one fish of every twelve caught by his habitants, and six days free labour every year.

The habitants also paid rent, but as they had very little money, payments were usually made in grain, chickens, or other farm produce. 0n Michaelmas Day, November 11, the rents were due. Then the road to the manor house was busy; perhaps one hundred tenants and members of their families brought their cackling poultry or bags of grain. They were received in the largest room of the mansion, knelt to ask the seignior's blessing, and then were treated to wine and other refreshments.

One of the most colourful days of the year was May Day. The tenants would place a gaily-decorated maypole in front of the mansion door. The seignior would make a ceremonial appearance, accept a glass of brandy, and blast the maypole with gunpowder! After that, the tenants danced around the maypole.

The happiest, gayest time was Christmas, and the celebrations lasted until Lent. It was almost the only time of year in which the habitants could relax, and they made the best of it. Preparations began in the spring when the mothers would set aside the best loaves of maple sugar, the jug of thickest syrup, and then as the year went on, the richest jams, clearest honey, and the prime cuts of meat and poultry.

On Christmas Eve the young people went to bed early, and were wakened for the drive through the snow to midnight Mass with sleigh bells jingling. Heavy robes of buffalo or bearskin were spread over all to keep them warm. The seignior was the first to enter the church, and the first to leave. Christmas Day was spent quietly, perhaps singing old French carols. More lively festivities would begin on December 26 and continue until Lent, but gifts and good wishes were not exchanged until New Year's Day.


26 December

-1791    The Canada Act, or Constitutional Act, went into effect. It divided Canada into Upper and Lower provinces.

-1960    A federal-provincial conference opened in Ottawa.