FAMILY FUN: Celebrating the magic of Christmas Eve

Laura Churchill Duke
Published on December 23, 2016

EvaJean, one, and Xander Leier, three, of Hantsport, always get new pajamas and a Christmas book to open every Christmas Eve. This is one of the popular Christmas Eve traditions that families carry out each year.


ANNAPOLIS VALLEY - I don’t ever remember believing in Santa Claus. It’s all my grandmother’s doing. She didn’t find out there wasn’t a Santa until she was about 12 years old, and she was humiliated and angry that she had been “lied to” for so long. At that moment, she vowed her children would never go through that, and this was then instilled in my siblings and me.

From a young age, we were responsible for buying one item for everyone’s stocking. Mom would give us a few dollars each and send us into the drug store on our own with a list. My brother was about five years old when he decided to buy everyone one bath bead and keep the rest of the money for himself.

To us, Santa was about the spirit of giving, even the young and the small. This was our family tradition.

I posed a question on Facebook to find out other’s Christmas Eve traditions. It resulted in a fascinating conversation where we discovered how much was the same, and yet different with all our families.

It seems most families, no matter the age, open one present Christmas Eve.

Carol Boylan-Hartling, Berwick, says when she was little, her brother, sister and she all got to open one gift Christmas Eve and it always happened to be Christmas pajamas.

“I'm sure we have a picture of the three of us hanging our stockings in our new jammies every year,” she says.

Boylan-Hartling continued the tradition with her daughters who are now grown up, and hopes to someday do the same with her grandchildren.

It was surprising how many families also get new pajamas Christmas Eve.

“We have one present that we open Christmas Eve and it's always the same,” says Kerri Leier, Hantsport. “It’s always new pjs and a new Christmas book.”

Claudine Laforce, New Minas, says she always has everyone unwrap their Christmas pjs Christmas Eve. That way, they all have new pajamas for photos!

Food is an integral part of any celebration, whether it is an Acadian meat pie for Kerra Mansfield, who grew up in Cheticamp, or a lobster or seafood feast.

For Mary Deveau, Kentville, it was always a coconut. Her father would use a hammer and nail to open it and pour out the liquid inside for them to share and drink.

“I don't know why we only had coconuts at Christmas,” says Deveau, “but I assume because they were hard to get any other time of year."

Tracey Bartie, New Minas, combines all these traditions Christmas Eve.

“We do a big lobster feed,” she says. “Then we eat a Happy Birthday Jesus cake and open one present with new pjs to boot.”

Several families, like the Benoits in New Minas, do a Christmas countdown with books. Mom Elizabeth Benoit wraps Christmas books individually and puts them out 10 days before Christmas. Each night, the children get to unwrap one book to read together, with the last one always being The Night Before Christmas.

Pam McCready, Coldbrook, also counts down to Christmas with books.

“We recycle books and I usually get a new one once there is one that they have outgrown but they only see them once a year (I put them away) so they are like new every year,” she says.

Others mentioned that they signed all the books out from the library!

Besides reading together, many families said they celebrate Christmas Eve with music.  Bethlyn Hird, Scott’s Bay, says her family sits in the room where the tree is and just have family time listening to Christmas music on records after attending the Christmas Eve service at their church.

Davina Melanson, Port Williams, goes a step farther. Her family gathers at her parents’ house and the kids always give a Christmas concert involving all their talents.

In the discussion, a few unique traditions were discovered. For example, Tracy Churchill and her family, Kentville, have created a time capsule ornament. This is a ball ornament and every year they add a new slip of paper inside listing two things each person has accomplished that year.

Monica Parlee in New Brunswick added that her family creates a nativity tray each Christmas Eve. A medieval English custom, they place a bowl of birdseed, a pile of cut up apples, a dish of cranberries, a pile of torn up bread, peelings from the potatoes used to make the turkey dressing, a handful of nuts, a few cut-up carrots and any other pieces of fruit or vegetable they have on hand, to help feed whomever or whatever may pass by that night.

There were many stories of combining different family customs from around the world like the British tradition of writing letters to Santa and burning them in the fireplace so the letters would go up in smoke to the North Pole where Santa would get them.

Finally, Angel Kozlowski, New Minas, caps off the night with a family toast with eggnog.

“Everyone takes a turn saying what they are thankful or grateful for or something they are happy about,” she says.

Christmas traditions can pass through the generations, while some new ones are created. One friend summed it up beautifully.

“What I like to think doesn't change in the tradition of Christmas is the pure of heart giving, sharing and loving from the magic this season seems to bring out in most.”

Merry Christmas one and all!

Laura Churchill Duke ( also opens one present Christmas Eve, but wants to start the tradition of the Nativity tray this year!