Acadian towns throughout the Maritime provinces have had some interesting Christmas traditions and legends.
Pre-Deportation Acadians didn’t regard Christmas as a time for celebrating. It was exclusively a religious holiday. Until the 1870s, Christmas for many Acadians was going to Midnight Mass and taking the kids to the local church to see the nativity scene.
Acadians had a few strange Christmas legends, a notable one which was often repeated was that animals would start speaking at the stroke of midnight on the Dec. 25. Beware though, because if you were to listen to their conversations you would hear them speaking of your death.
While Christmas was exclusively regarded as a religious holiday, the first day of the new year was a very social event. People would stay up late and have parties in their houses, waiting for midnight. Neighbours would go around shaking each other’s hands and wishing them well. Families would get together and exchange gifts (called étrennes). These gifts were not brought by Santa Claus, but by Baby Jesus.
Kids, would excitedly head over to their godparents’ houses on New Year’s Day to receive a person-shaped pastry called a naulet. These pastries, usually made from cookie dough, were the one thing that young children would be excited for above all else during the holidays. Naulets would have candy for their eyes, nose and ears and represented Baby Jesus.
New Year’s had its share of superstitions as well. One of the stranger ones was that it was considered bad luck for your entire family if a girl was the first person of the year to enter your house. People bribed young boys with sweets or even money to come into their homes because they were the ideal first visitors of the year according to the superstition.
Slowly, though, the Acadian communities started changing these traditions once influence exerted from English parts of the Maritimes and New England. The name “Santa Claus” (never Père Noël) starting popping up in Acadian newspapers, then the expression “Merry Christmas.” Only years later would these terms be translated and accepted into the Acadian vocabulary.