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eJOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net) ISSN 1605-7406

ISSUE 34 NOVEMBER 2001   CONTENTS   HOME PAGE

regular columnist grant charles

Rituals

The holidays will soon be upon us. I must admit this is a very special time of the year for me. In fact I love this time of the year. In Calgary where I live the weather can be quite unpredictable. Some years it can be quite warm. Last year my kids and I tossed a football around outside on Christmas day while wearing shorts and t-shirts. Not an ounce of snow anywhere. In other years there have been tons of snow. The temperature can drop to the minus 30s (Celsius). Cold enough that unprotected flesh can freeze in moments. Either way you can see the Rocky Mountains from our house. Theyre always snow capped at Christmas.

My wife and I combine a weird assortment of traditions from our own backgrounds. Between us we have French, Irish, Scottish and Ukrainian in our blood. Our holidays are a mixture of the best form each of these cultures. We also have a number of traditions that are just ours. Every year we have a large dinner on Christmas Eve. It is a special meal for us. Sometimes it is just we but often we share it with friends. At the end of the meal we decorate the tree. Many of our decorations were made by our kids over the years. Each is beautiful in its our way. Each has a special memory in its own right. Once the tree is decorated we put the final touch on the top. Most people use an angel or a star. We use a top hat. It is from the 1800s. A friend gave it to me as a birthday present close to thirty years ago. I dont know where she is anymore. You know how people can drift away over the years. But every Christmas when we put he hat on top of the tree I think of her and wish her well.

Each of us takes a turn putting the hat on top of the tree so it goes up there five times each Christmas. We take pictures of us while we do it. When the kids were younger I had to lift them up to do the job. Now they can do it on their own. It was a big event for each of them when they first put the hat on the tree by themselves. A rite of passage. We have a wonderful pictorial history of them with the hat since they were babies.

We always leave milk and cookies out by the fireplace for Santa. Even thought the kids are no longer little they still insist we leave the milk and cookies out. When they were little we started to build a trap to try to catch Santa. The kids figured that if we could catch him they would get to keep all the toys he had with him. The traps were quite elaborate although different every year. However, no matter how good the traps were we never managed to catch him.

Just before the kids go to bed I read them a story. It is the same story every year. I used to think that this would end as they got older they still insist on the story. In fact the kids tend to want the same routine every year. Whenever my wife and I have tried to change anything we are told in no uncertain terms to leave well enough alone and so we do. After the story the kids go to bed. Holly and I put the presents under the tree. This gets harder every year. Not because there are more presents but rather because as they have gotten older they stay up later and later. Good for them but hard on us because as we get older we have started to go to bed earlier and earlier. It is not unusual on every night other than Christmas Eve for them to go to bed later then us. The next day we get up at first light and open our presents. We have breakfast together and later a turkey dinner. It is a great day but it is really Christmas Eve that is the best. The time together, the build-up of excitement, the rituals passed down through our families and those developed on our own. This is what makes Christmas so special to me.

So as the holidays approach I want to wish those of you who celebrate Christmas a wonderful time. For those of you who get to spend time with your families I hope this is your best Christmas ever. For those of you who will be working I know it can be a lonely time. However, as you spend time with the kids in your care I hope you remember that you may be helping them start their own traditions. Merry Christmas.