Joanne’s sister’s children and grandchildren wearing aprons that Joanne made them a few years ago. Joanne McNeal
The holidays are a time to share food and memories with family and friends. Each family has its own traditions and ways of celebrating and remembering, often including special foods. We can also include and embrace new friends and share our own traditions with others.
When I was growing up, we had lots of special meals with various parts of our family. We had neighbours from Mexico and were invited to share some of the baking and meal preparations. It was fun to learn about the traditions of other families, and to share our own Christian traditions.
My father’s parents had their children and grandchildren over for a special meal together on Christmas Eve. My mother’s parents had their four children and many grandchildren over for Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. My grandparents had a huge table and it was my job to set it. The men all gathered by the Christmas tree to set up the electric train under it. The women were all in the kitchen stirring, mashing, and sharing stories. As a child, all I could see was their backs and their apron strings, and I could hear them talking and laughing.
My parents also took a Christmas service to a Mexican church too poor to afford a minister. So, my sister and I, with our mother, sang and played our violins, and we led the singing of hymns and carols. Our father read Scripture and gave a short sermon. We also brought lug boxes of oranges and apples, and the little church provided a piñata full of candies. After the service, we celebrated together with the Mexican families, sharing the piñata and fruit. I realize now that was a huge influence that helped me think about others besides myself. When we got older, we even took our violins and played and sang in several prisons.
When I married and had my own children, we created new traditions. We went caroling around the neighbourhood and to hospitals, just to bring happiness to others. On the big day of Christmas, our children always wanted to wake up early and tear open the presents under the tree. So to slow that down, we created a new tradition of working together to make a special breakfast. Only stockings could be opened before we all made breakfast together. We always chose something that created jobs for all members of the family, and we all shared setting the table. We still sing hymns and carols together – even when we visit my sister’s family. Now that my daughters have their own families, we celebrate with dinners all together with extended families, including friends that are visiting – lots of generations together.
One year when I was a student at the U of A, I invited some International students to share Christmas with our family. They each brought a dish traditionally made by their families in their home country. We listened to the stories of each one as we ate our international Christmas buffet dinner. What a wonderful shared meal that was – and it was a great way for all of us to learn about other cultural traditions. We are lucky that people from so many different countries and traditions live in our neighbourhood here in Edmonton – let’s share our holiday traditions together this year!
Joanne lives in McCauley.