JOURNALIST JENNIFER STAHN
My Christmases are not normal. Okay, maybe they are normal, but they're not filled with the traditional happy-go-lucky good times that you read about or see on TV.
Even though my memories are filled with cringe-worthy Christmas moments, my childhood does include a bunch of wonderful memories that I am trying to now share with my daughter by carrying on old traditions or creating our own new ones, ones not revolving around the most expensive gifts or being forced to endure large crowds much of the month (I really, really don't like shopping during the holidays.)
Games: Some of my best memories involve games. My favourites are traditional card games like gin rummy and cribbage, but the absolute best game ever is the one my Grandpa mastered. Every year one of my aunts or uncles would get chosen for tickets to the Jets or Blue Bombers. This sounds great, but those tickets were always buried in a six-foot high wood crate that was filled with straw. A crowbar was always required and the mess that filled the living room as they searched for a 'ticket in a haystack' was worth it to hear the laughter, and curses, as the lucky recipient attempted to 'unwrap' their gift. I have inherited his love for difficult or gag gifts and someone always gets a duct-taped gift or is forced to choose between two identical looking boxes, and no, they never get to find out what was in the other box. So far Lizzie enjoys getting in on the pranks but it will probably take a few years for her to perfect her skill.
Movies: I'm not a big TV or movie person, but as a child I loved any of the old cartoons like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Now if I have time and one of those good old cartoons like Rudolph or movies like A Christmas Story or How the Grinch Stole Christmas is on, I'll watch and we do try to make time to sit down and watch these good oldies with our daughter as a way of sharing our childhood with her.
Crafts: I have always been a crafty person and would spend hours with my Grandma learning to paper tole, macrame, how to make candles or creating chocolates. Crafting was one of the things I loved most when I was younger — making gifts personalized perfectly for someone and seeing their enjoyment when they unwrap it (the wrapping was usually a bit more crafty as well.) This is something I now share with my daughter year-round and Christmas often involves her making cards for friends, something for her teacher and usually some ornaments as well. I am trying really hard to get back to the days where many of the gifts I hand out are handmade as well and would love for Lizzie to do the same.
Elf on the Shelf: This is a new one for us, we just adopted our first elf Dec.1 of this year and every day Binky has been getting into some sort of mischief, from shoving Santa in the freezer and a not so great attempt at decorating the tree to swinging in the fort and playing games with the other dolls. It's a lot of work to set up every night but I love the excitement in Lizzie's face when she discovers the latest escapade, and it definitely beats just getting a chocolate from an advent calendar every day.
Food: Every holiday meal was something special as a child, especially when they involved Great Grandma's cookies, German food or Christmas crackers. I always looked forward to the traditional German meal my Oma would make (she was a professional cook before moving to Canada), even though we had to sing for our supper. There's really nothing like five awkward cousins having to sing a German Christmas carol, properly, to the adults before anyone can eat. But sing we always did, the food was too good to put on hold. My Great Grandma's ginger cookies are one of the warmest memories of my childhood though, she always had some in her freezer waiting for our visits over the winter and to this day just the smell of ginger and molasses takes me back to her little house in the middle of Winnipeg. Hudson family meals were always started with Christmas crackers. On the count of three we would all open ours at the same time, making a lot of noise and often covering our food in little trinkets that went flying everywhere when the crackers popped open. I even remember one year when a creepy crawly came out of the one my aunt opened, even though I try really, really hard to forget that part...
We live away from family now so huge feasts are no longer part of our celebration, though baking and Christmas crackers are and Lizzie does enjoy helping to make treats for her class every year.
Christmas lights: As a child I loved Christmas lights. As a reporter in Southeast Manitoba I was required to find a dozen overly-done homes to photograph every year and since moving to Kamloops we always take time to tour the city to see the fantastic displays. We will often will go out a couple of different nights to see them, bringing one of Lizzie's friends to join in the sightseeing tour.
Christmas Eve: I grew up with a German step-family and Christmas Eve was always spent with that side of the family, which meant we always got to open some gifts that night. My husband's family also has German heritage so even as an adult Christmas Eve has played a key role in our lives and as a result we always allow our daughter to pick out one gift to open that evening.
Christmas Day: Since we don't have any family gatherings to run between anymore we like to spend time together outdoors after having a special breakfast and opening all the gifts. A couple years before we moved west we actually started to spend the holidays down in Minneapolis where we would explore the city and always made a point of taking in the winter beauty at Como Park and Zoo in neighbouring St. Paul. Since moving we try to get outdoors to do some sledding and skiing on Christmas Day. This year will likely include snowshoeing as well now that we all have our own pair. The ultimate goal is peaceful family time, because after all the commotion of the holiday season, we need some downtime.