Traditions and customs of Canada

What traditions and customs are there in Canada?

The customs and traditions of Canada, explained here below.


Food in daily life

Canada’s agricultural and ethnic wealth has led to two distinctive features of daily food consumption. The first is its scale. Canadians are “heavy eaters,” with meat portions in particular dominating Canadian food. There are usually three regular meals on a given day.

Breakfast, which is usually large and important in rural areas, but not so much in urban areas, is not usually eaten in a group. Lunch, at noon, is usually a snack in urban areas, but it is still an important meal in rural centers.

Dinner, the last formal meal of the day, is also the meal most likely to be eaten by a residential group as a whole, and it is the largest and most socially important meal of the day.

It is the meal most used as a social event or to which invitations are extended to people who are not family members, in contrast to the lunch that is often, for adults, shared with co-workers.

Meat plays a key role in all three formal meals, but with increasing importance at breakfast and dinner. Dinner should have a special, and more often than not, large portion of meat as its key component. Each of these three meals can be, and often is, very substantial. There are general rules about the appropriate foods for each meal, rules that can be quite complex.

For example, pork may feature in every meal, but only certain types of pork would be considered appropriate. Pork at breakfast can appear as bacon, or sausage, in small portions. Both products are made from the least valuable portion of the pig.

At lunch, pork can appear in a sandwich in the form of processed meats, also made from the least valuable portion of the pig. For dinner, pork appears in larger, more valued forms, such as roasts or hams, which often require elaborate preparation and are presented to diners in a way that highlights its value and size.

The other main characteristic of Canadian food is diversity. Canada’s complex ethnic landscape and the tendency of ethnic groups to maintain a dual cultural orientation have meant that Canadian cuisine is quite diverse in its content, with many ethnic dishes also being seen as typically Canadian.

Whether it’s pizza or chow mein, coleslaw rolls or plum pudding, Canadian cuisine is characterized by being eclectic rather than consistent in its content. There are a small number of foods that are considered distinctively Canadian, such as maple syrup, but in general the Canadian diet is drawn from a panoply of ethnic sources.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Ceremonial food generally does not differ much in content from daily food. What distinguishes food in ceremonial settings, such as state dinners, is not the type of food, but the amount of food served and the complexity of its presentation and consumption.

Ceremonial dinners usually consist of a long list of dishes served in a rigid sequence, eaten with specific utensils for each portion, and presented in an often elaborate arrangement, either generally on the table as a whole, or in the particular portions placed on the plate of each diner.

The same general consideration applies to meals for more private special occasions, such as those marking major religious holidays such as Christmas.

The number of discrete dishes is often quite large, the preparation of each is often specialized and involved, and the portions consumed are more often than would otherwise be consumed. These more private meals for special occasions often involve entire families sharing in both the preparation and consumption of the meal.

There is another special meal worth mentioning, the potluck. “Potluck” is derived from the word potlatch, a special occasion of many West Coast First Nations peoples. The potluck involves each guest preparing and bringing a dish to the event, to be shared by all diners.

The key component of this type of meal is sharing food among friends rather than preparing food for the family. In general, meals are meals shared by friends or co-workers.

They express the symbolic importance of food as part of the moral geography of social relationships among non-relatives, but distinguish this meal as an act of sharing food rather than an act of food preparation. That is, pot food expresses a sense of community and friendliness, while family food expresses a sense of service, duty, and family solidarity.


Canada’s ethnic diversity means that the rules of social decorum are quite complex. There are certain general expectations. The greeting, except in formal settings, does not require touching in the form of hugs or handshakes.

Behavior in public must be toned down. Loud commotion and loud talking, for example, are considered inappropriate except in special circumstances or in places such as bars or other venues.

As a community, Canadians are generally soft-spoken, patient, and almost apologetic in their public behavior. They are also generally tolerant of the complex web of cultural differences in public behavior, even more so in cities, where such diversity is more commonplace.


Religious beliefs

Religious affiliation is more prevalent than religious observance, although this varies by ethnic and religious group. The majority of Canadians claim to have some religious affiliation, mostly Christian, although between the 1981 and 1991 census periods, the number of people who claim no religious affiliation has almost doubled, from about 1.7 million to just under 3.4 million.

However, there are significant practitioners of all major world religions in Canada. Officially, Canada is a Christian nation, with respect for the Christian God enshrined in statute. Swearing on the Bible, for example, is part of most legal proceedings, although non-secular alternatives are also practiced. Prayers open many official functions.

Personal religious observance has declined in recent decades, a phenomenon similar to that in most industrialized countries. This seems to be mostly a Christian phenomenon.

New Canadians often make special efforts to maintain their religious observances as part of the process of preserving their original ethnic or cultural identity. Some religious groups have grown in membership, such as those associated with evangelical Christianity, but in general the trend in Canada has been towards increasing secularism in public and private life.

An exception is the increased observance of traditional religious practices among First Nations peoples in recent decades, which must be seen as both a spiritual revitalization and part of the historic process of reaffirming their ethnic and political identities in Canada.

Religious professionals

Most religious officials are associated with the world’s major religions, although some ethnic differences do exist. For example, in Portuguese communities, such as the one in Toronto, specialized religious practitioners, such as healers, are common.

With changes in migration patterns, significant religious practitioners associated with non-world religions, such as local religious traditions found among different people in Africa, are becoming common.

With the exception of religious practitioners who work for political bodies, such as the chaplain of the federal parliament, religious practitioners generally have authority and serve the needs of their own locally defined communities.

One exception is the growing importance of First Nations spiritual leaders, who also serve as political leaders in their communities. These professionals are often directly involved in dealings with the broader Canadian community, and their spiritual and political roles are indivisible.

Rituals and Holy Places

There is too much religious diversity across Canada to make general observations about rituals and holy places. Churches of many types are important places in almost every community, not only for practitioners of religion in particular, but also as community centers and community emergency operating bases.

In both large and small communities, churches are often the site of community activism and provision of community services, such as the homeless shelter.

While religion arguably plays less and less of a role in Canadian cultural life, religious institutions and professionals play an important role in the non-spiritual aspects of community life.

Death and the afterlife

Most Canadians believe in the Christian model of the afterlife, of heaven and hell. Burial practices vary by religious group, but for the most part funeral and burial celebrations are the responsibility of the family of the deceased.

Funerals are both private functions, attended by family and friends, and public functions, such as the funeral procession from a church to a burial place. Funerals of important political or cultural figures may be televised.

Secular celebrations

Canadian holidays can be political or religious. The main celebrations, which are often marked by a legal holiday away from work, include two religious holidays: Christmas, December 25; and Easter, which varies from year to year.

There are five main political or secular celebrations: Canada Day, July 1; New Year’s Day, January 1; Victoria Day, which honors Queen Victoria of England and varies from year to year; Labor Day, September; and Thanksgiving, in October.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts

Most artists in Canada are self-sufficient and there are very few artists whose income comes entirely from their artistic endeavors. Various tax-funded programs exist, at all levels of government, to provide financial assistance to artists of all kinds.

The Governor General’s Awards are presented each year to artists, writers, musicians and other entertainers. There is a federal National Art Gallery, and most provinces also have a major tax-supported art gallery, usually in the provincial capital.


Canada does not have a single national literary tradition, but instead participates in the larger world of English literature. Although there are many internationally known Canadian writers, there is generally not a single canon of Canadian literature. An exception is the province of Quebec, which has a long-standing “national” literature known for its criticism and social experimentation.

In recent decades, the number of published Canadian authors has increased dramatically, and Canadians as a community buy and read more books than most other industrialized countries. However, no special preference is given to Canadian literature.

Graphic arts

Canada has a large cohort of artists working in all media. Most small cities, and all large ones, have many art galleries, including tax-funded galleries.

There are several artists’ cooperatives in cities across the country, which provide artistic and financial support to their members. There is no single model of artistic presentation that works throughout the country.

Performing arts

Theater ranges from professional theaters, mainly in large cities, that offer mainstream entertainment such as musical theater, to small community theater companies that can be found across the country.

Several companies or specialty events, such as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Shaw Festival, both in Ontario, take place each year and are international draws.

The city of Toronto has the distinction of hosting more theater openings per year than any other city in the English-speaking world. Its theaters include large commercial venues offering primarily musical theatre, several large venues for other types of musical performances, and a diverse range of theaters and theater companies offering both new original works for the company and works from nearly every linguistic and cultural tradition..

For the most part, attendance follows class lines, but with important exceptions. Smaller theaters and theater companies, and particularly those offering new, experimental, or political theater, encourage and attract audiences of all classes. In fact, this is part of your role and your goal.

Many of these theater companies see themselves as activists promoting social change. This makes these theaters both performance spaces and informal NGOs, a dual role that, while not unique to Canada, is an important aspect of its political culture.

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