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8 North American Social Events and Traditions You May Not Know

Between Ontario and Quebec, Spring 2011

It’s not that I’m losing my French: it’s just that language is highly cultural. That’s my excuse (a valid one, mind you) for not knowing the French equivalent to a lot of North America traditions.

How can you translate something that doesn’t actually exist in your home country? Most French will understand “Halloween” or “Thanksgiving” (thank you Hollywood!) but chances are a lot have never heard of “Boxing Day” or “Tailgates parties”. I know I hadn’t anyway.

During my first few years in Canada, I discovered several social events and tradition I didn’t even know existed. Do you know these?

Baby Shower — in North America, baby showers are a popular way for young parents to celebrate a pending or recent birth and to get gifts related to babies, such as toys, clothes or basic supplies. Baby showers are typically a surprise party for the mother-to-be, so supplies must be bought by friends or even colleagues. Some women are superstitious are would rather wait until the birth of the baby to celebrate while others don’t mind throwing an early party. The father-to-be, who is usually aware of such preferences, usually gives the go-ahead for the baby shower but he may not be invited: some parties are women-only!

Boxing Day — This public holiday in most of the Commonwealth is celebrated right after Christmas and it is mostly known as a shopping holiday. Stores typically offer huge sales and lineups can start forming in the middle of the night before Boxing Day to get a chance to snatch the doorbuster deals. The most popular items on sale are invariably retail electronics.

Casual Friday — Along with the popular initialism “TGIF” ( for “Thank God it’s Friday”), casual Friday is a common way to celebrate the upcoming weekend in North America. Many workplaces give their employees a break from a more formal dress code and encourage them to “dress down”. That said, the level of casualness really depends on the workplace: in some, jeans and hoodies are acceptable while others expect a “business casual” attire. Observe people before you show up at work wearing a Lady GaGa costume!

Halloween — This spooky holiday celebrated on October 31st is now well-known around the world, but celebration in the United States and Canada is probably the most traditional. In North America, many households carve jack-o’-lanterns and display the monstrous faces at the window or on the porch. Kids and teens go trick-or-treating in their neighborhood and even adults enjoy a thrill in some popular “haunted” attractions.

Potluck — A potluck is a communal meal where guests bring dishes to share. It is especially popular with informal gatherings at school, at work or among a large group of friends because it’s a great way to make meal planning easy and to distribute the costs among the participants. Popular dishes include cold salads (with couscous, pasta, quinoa…), chili, breads or bagels with spread, cookies, cupcakes or loaf cakes.

Prom — In North America, high school graduation parties (prom) are a big deal. Students typically dress formally and attend the school dance or dinner as couple. Around May, you can see teens frantically trying on prom dresses in stores to wear on their special night. Similar traditions exist around the world but not in France where I’m from. We didn’t have any kind of graduation party, either for high school or university.

Tailgate Party — This social event is held on and around the open tailgate of a vehicle, usually in the parking lot at stadiums and arenas before a game or a concert. This idea is to have some fun before the event and grab something to eat and drink to avoid paying the traditionally high event price. Tailgating is mostly a U.S tradition but Canadian fans have been known to brave the cold to host their own as well for NHL or CFL games.

Thanksgiving — This statutory holiday, celebrated the second Monday of October in Canada, is the time to giving thanks at the close of the harvest season. People usually enjoy a family meal during the three-day long weekend. Roasted turkey with stuffing, oven-baked yams (sweet potatoes) and pie are popular items to share.

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