Yes, we Canadians have been dispelling the cold and the darkness of winter… not to mention scurvy… for many long years now.

It all began when the original French settlers came to Canada (or New France as they called it) and settled down for their first winter on Ste. Croix Island in the Bay of Fundy. Only about half the inhabitants made it through that first winter, the rest dying from starvation and scurvy. In the spring, Samuel de Champlain moved the survivors to the north side of the Bay of Fundy, and on the shores of Annapolis Basin, they created the settlement of Port Royal. And to help his people survive the winter both physically and emotionally, Champlain decreed that they would establish the “Ordre de Bon Temps” or the Order of Good Cheer.

Throughout the winter of 1606, each member of the order took a turn providing fresh fish and game for a wondrous feast, then acting as “steward of the day,” they lead a ceremonial procession to the table (The Canadian Encyclopedia.)

The settlers were often joined by leaders of the nearby native  Mi’kmaq community, who if truth be told were probably  instrumental in these newcomers being able to find the fish and game to begin with. And so the winter passed in a most pleasant manner. There was not only good food, but music, amateur dramatics, good conversation, laughter, and no scurvy. As Champlain himself wrote, “We passed the winter most joyously, and fared lavishly” (The Canadian Encyclopedia.)

Port Royal Historic Site in Nova Scotia

I’ve loved that story from Canadian history since I first learned it in grade seven. And being from down east, I’ve always felt connected to that idea, the tradition of “The Order of Good Cheer.”

And so Hubby and I (and about forty friends) continued the tradition when, on the Friday night before Christmas, we got dolled up for the annual ‘partay’ and feast at the home of our friends Ace and Michelle. Every year they host a fabulous Christmas party in their lovely log home.

Most of the revelers are members of the “hockey gang.” This is a large group of guys with whom my husband has played hockey for years (and years) and their wives or girlfriends. When I first met my husband, a scant thirty years ago, they had already been a tight-knit group for at least a decade. Since then we’ve been through a lot together: divorces, new partners, retirements, the challenges of illness and the loss of some really close friends. No to mention lots of great parties and funny stories… many, many stories. These people are family, now.

Michelle and Ace always lay on a great feast. And Friday night did not disappoint. This is just the appetizer table.

As per tradition, after the first round of food and drinks, the singing commenced. Accompanied by Ace’s sister-in-law on the piano, we had to sing for our supper.

These ladies are doing some serious singing. Always happy to oblige, they carried most of the rest of us. Well, some of the rest of us…. well, me at least. I can’t carry a tune… so I joined in on the chorus, mostly

There are always some rabble-rousers in the corner, as you can see. And some of them are retired high school principals who should know better. I think I was being told, here, that I might have a detention, for taking too many pictures.

Our final song was a rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” lead by Jan, who is a talented blues singer and musician. That’s her in the red dress. Jan announced that we would be performing the song with accompanying actions….so… “on your feet, people!” Jan was assisted by M.L and Sue… as moral support, I think. Or maybe to chastise any rowdies who might disrupt the festivities. This was a crowd that included many retired teachers, after all…. experienced disrupters.

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… four calling birds…”
“Five…  golden…    rings…”
“Six geese a laying?” Or was it “two turtle doves?” I don’t know. I didn’t get any shots of the rest of the verses… I was laughing too hard.
After the singing, we had a wonderful supper of lasagna, tourtière (traditional Quebecois Christmas fare) and salads. Followed by a table laden with desserts of all kinds. What with all the eating and drinking and talking and laughing, I didn’t take any more pictures the rest of the evening.
I must say… I love all these people. They are the best kind of friends. We don’t need to see each other every week to stay close… and if I (or Hubby) ever needed anything… not one of them would hesitate to jump into the breach. That’s the very best kind of friends to have.
And it’s evenings like this that carry on the tradition of the “Ordre de Bon Temps.” We might not have had a “steward” to lead us to table… but we had Jan to lead us in song. And we had great food and lots of laughter that could dispel even the most dire of winter blues. And if that rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” doesn’t count as amateur dramatics…well… I don’t know what does. Oh… and definitely no scurvy.
To slightly misquote Champlain, “we passed the evening joyously, and fared lavishly.”
Well, I must wrap this up… my own tourtière filling is bubbling on the stove and I haven’t finished trimming the tree yet.
Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, whatever holiday you celebrate.
P.S. I apologize for the quality of the pictures. My i-pad takes terrible shots in low light.
P.P.S. I’ll be taking a bit of a break from blogging for a week or so. I’ll catch up with you in 2015. And thanks for reading.


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8 thoughts on “The Order of Good Cheer… Twenty-first Century Style”

  1. This was so interesting , to hear of your Canadian traditions – old & new – & what a wonderful party . I struck up a conversation with a shop assistant recently who was Canadian & told her that I couldn't cope with the extreme weather conditions of Canada . She explained that it didn't stop people doing anything & the authorities kept on top of it . She complained about our dank , grey winter days with little sunshine & I had to agree . Though brightness is forecast for Xmas time . Merry Xmas , thank you for writing .
    Wendy in York

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