Franco-American Holiday Traditions

“Je vous souhaite une bonne et heureuse année, une bonne santé, et le paradis à la fin de vos jours”


La bénédiction paternelle, Joseph Massicotte, 1912. Image: Musée des beaux arts, Québec

La bénédiction paternelle, Joseph Massicotte, 1912. Image: Musée des beaux arts, Québec

With those words, or variations thereof, generations of French Canadians and Franco-Americans have welcomed in hundreds of New Years. The New Years blessing is traditionally given by the patriarch of the family – the oldest male relative – and for many families, New Year’s Day involved a visit to grandfather’s house for the family gathering and the annual blessing.

For Franco Americans, the turn of the New Year has been a signifiant holiday, rivaling Christmas. Gifts were even exchanged on New Year’s Day However, at least one fight broke out along loggers in The Forks when a Protestant logger called New Years the “French Canadian Christmas,” a slight that resulted in a series of bloody noses and broken arms in 1900.

A whole host of foods are associated with the French Canadian holiday season, not just the well-known tourtière but also a number of other dishes from potato pie to pigs hock soup listed in an 1897 column.

Another tradition for the new year, recorded in an article from 1905 is the Quête du enfant Jésu (The Collection for Baby Jesus):

“This collection was managed by the parish priest, who was driven round among his parishioners….the gifts that he gathered “for the love of the infant Jesus” on the Festival of the Circumcision [January 1st] were distributed among the poor.”

Likewise, parishioners might take
part in La Ignotée, which resembled a blend of truck or treating and modern end of year giving campaigns:

“On the eve of the new year, bands of youthful masqueraders serenaded the various residents of the locality after nightfall with music and song, knocking at doors and windows begging for offerings for the poor, generally eatables, with threats of revenge of gifts were refused. A price of pork with the tail adhering, called la Chignee, was the expected offering.”

A final vanished custom recorded at the turn of the 20th century was using the day to make social calls upon young French Canadian women.

Whatever your family traditions, bonne année to you and yours in 2017!

James Myall

About James Myall

While I currently work for an Augusta-based non-profit, I spent four years as the Coordinator of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine. In 2015, I co-authored "The Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn," a general history of that population from 1850 to the present. I was also a consultant for the State Legislative Task Force on Franco-Americans in 2012. I live in Topsham with my wife and two young daughters.