Although on the ‘older’ side of my life (or the ‘other’ side depending on where you are standing), I’m still too young to remember witnessing or participating in a traditional ‘old-style’ GUIGNOLÉE; but I can still remember learning by heart some verses of its original sing-along song when in primary school:
Bonjour le maître et la maîtresse,
Et tout le monde de la maison
Pour le dernier jour de l’année
La guignolée vous nous devez
La guignolée, la guignoloche,
Mettez du lard dedans nos poches!
‘Guignolée’ is somewhat an old-fashioned French word that is very seldom used and most only in referring to the pre-Christmas activity we all know about; it has no exact English translation, the closest being ‘food drive’. Guignolées are normally held in late November/early December, mostly in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia; most often, it is managed by local social clubs and/or community organizations whose volunteers collect non-perishable foods and funds to help underprivileged families and individuals during the holiday season.
The ‘guignolée’ tradition originates in the founding of New France and its Christian roots: the very first guignolée in Quebec is said to have taken place in 1861 and organised by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. On Christmas eve and on New Year’s eve (St. Sylvestre), volunteers from the community traveled from house to house on horse-drawn carriages to collect food for the community’s needy; as they arrived, they rang a bell to announce their arrival and would launch into their sing-along; favourites donations were pork shoulders which were often butchered especially for the holiday season gatherings and meals. ‘Courir la guignolée’ was at the same time a fun event for the ‘guignoleux’ who would have fun singing, joking, stopping in every household for a foot-warming next to the fireplace, a ‘throat-warming’ liquid compliments of the family and possibly a cruising opportunity for unmarried and available ladies and gents…
In our own area at large (Prescott-Russell and Argenteuil counties), few actual house-to-house guignolées are still taking place: the village of L’Orignal usually holds one, managed by the L’Orignal Volunteer Firefighters Association and the Knights of Columbus Conseil Saint-Jean-Baptiste, but for pandemic reasons, they resorted to drop-off areas for donations: L’Orignal Fire Hall and L’Orignal Food Bank; please check locally or on social media for specific details. Again this year, the Vankleek Hill Food Drive to help supply the village’s Food Bank will be held in association with Foodland in its parking lot. The village of Grenville decided to use a similar format : three depot centres have been set to received your donations : Campbell Centre (west), Bougie Centre (centre) and the Catholic church basement (east). In Lachute, a ‘live’ traditional guignolée was held on the 20th of November and was a huge success: residents were asked to leave their donations outside their front door and ‘guignoleux’ went from house to house for no-contact pick-up; the event was organized and supervised by Le Centre d’entraide d’Argenteuil. At time of publication, we couldn’t confirm any other ‘authentic’ guignolée. Many communities, businesses and organizations are holding typical ‘food drives’ where you are invited to contribute, either in person or online, donating either products or funds, and share your wealth and generosity with a less fortunate neighbor. Check local papers, billboards, social media memos/postings, check with your friends, co-workers, relatives as to where and how you can contribute. Thank you all!