From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada


Welcome to Christmas in Canada! If you live here, you know the Christmas holiday season in Canada is particularly special for many reasons — not the least of which is that Santa Claus himself is a Canadian. Yes, he is. Did you know that Canada Post receives letters from children all over the world written in dozens of different languages, and has, for many years, been forwarding them to Santa at the North Pole? It’s true — Santa’s famous H0H 0H0 postal code is recognized worldwide as belonging to Canada. Between one and two million letters addressed to Santa arrive in Canada every year and Canada Post makes sure that every single one is delivered to Santa and his helpers.

What else is special? Well, in addition to Santa being a Canadian, in most parts of the country you can generally expect or at least hope for a traditional white Christmas. It snows just about everywhere in Canada, and even in Vancouver and Victoria — it could happen….

Another thing special about Christmas in Canada is our multicultural identity; all across the country we find our roots from so many different traditions around the world. Yet, despite these differences, when it comes to the Christmas holiday season there seems to have developed a common experience based on a blend of our historically diverse Canadian heritage combined with our dependably challenging winter climate and… the fact that (as I’ve already mentioned) Santa Claus himself is clearly a Canadian.

Take for example, Lesley Marcovich who lives in Newmarket, Ontario. Lesley and her family came originally from South Africa and always had a dream of what experiencing a real Canadian Christmas might be like in a peaceful and free country. Her story in Chapter One, “A Christmas Dream,” brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it, and each time since. It reminded me (despite the still recent Christmas 2013 Ice Storm), how grateful I am for this wonderful land of peace and freedom we call home.

Speaking of that Christmas 2013 Ice Storm, it was such a huge, dramatic event that impacted so many people, when we began this project only a few weeks later I knew I wanted stories about how people survived and helped each other through it. Imagine my delight when the EXACT story I was looking for arrived from a fourteen-year-old girl named Alexa Danielle Patino. Alexa’s family lives in Toronto and like 600,000 other homes in Southern Ontario, their entire neighbourhood lost power on the Saturday morning before Christmas. But by some small miracle, after only a couple of hours their small bungalow was part of a strip of only six houses where the power was inexplicably restored. For the rest of those eight days her parents opened their doors to a steady stream of neighbours and friends to come in and warm up, have a hot shower or share a meal. Christmas Eve at their home was one big sleepover with ice storm refugees sleeping on every available surface. In Alexa’s story, “Under One Roof,” you will be so touched when you read how on Christmas morning, after a big community breakfast, the gift opening around the tree with friends and neighbours of all ages with everyone still in their pyjamas, created a very intimate and memorable experience!

Now, when it comes to memorable experiences, I think you will love Sharon Melnicer’s story, “The Hanukkah Parade,” about her feisty Austrian grandmother whose beloved silver menorah was stolen and then recovered just in time for Hanukkah. The vision of Sharon’s tiny ninety-year-old “Baba” leading a parade of friends and neighbours along a wintry Calgary street triumphantly holding aloft her precious two-foot menorah is one I really wish I’d been there to see in person!

Our chapter on Holiday Celebrations & Traditions is full of stories about different traditions, sometimes within families, sometimes in communities, and sometimes traditions that have been blended in from other countries. We LOVED Caroline Sealey’s story “The Farmers’ Parade of Lights,” an unusual and amazing annual community tradition in Rockwood, Ontario. We delighted and laughed at the wonderful images she shared about the parade and the experience she and her kids had, and I can assure you that next year — I plan to go!

In Holiday Memories you will find a collection of delightful stories, some touching and some that will make you laugh out loud. For most of us, family is a very important part of the Christmas season, and J.A. Gemmell’s story “A Quebec Christmas” really brought that home. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I think you will be truly moved when you read the lengths to which people will go to be with their loved ones at Christmas.

Then there is the tree. O Christmas Tree! — what would the season be without you? As I read through all the stories that came in, I came to realize that next to Santa, that Christmas tree may be one of the most important elements of a Canadian Christmas. Laura Snell sent us a lovely story entitled, “Our Special Christmas Tree.” As a young single mother, she did her best with limited resources to create a special experience for her little boy. This included the best tree she could afford, which was a small “Charlie Brown” type artificial tree. But the experience of decorating it together with her son created a very special tree, which as the years passed became more and more special. Through family circumstances that special tree was retired and put in storage for a few years, and when it was finally brought forth once again, a very touching drama ensued, just not the one they were expecting. Once again I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but this story — like all the others in this book — really does illustrate the overarching theme of the eternal power of love — always more powerful at Christmas.

Of course the tree is the focal point for Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve to deliver all the presents. In The Santa Files you will find a collection of delightful stories about Santa, including “Christmas Coals” by Encina Roh, who emigrated with her family from China to Vancouver when she was only six. Now fifteen years old, Encina is easily able to recount her exultant experience as a six-year-old of her first Christmas in Canada, and her first experience with Santa — never having known this tradition in China. I was simply delighted with her excitement as she found proof positive that Santa had indeed come down their chimney during the night to bring presents, and then left the same way he had come in.

One theme that permeated many of the stories we received is the joy most people experience when they give; giving of course being love in expression. That theme is represented in every chapter in one way or another, but in Chapter 7, Taking Care of Each Other, Kristine Groskaufmanis delights us with her story “New Year’s Eve Warmth.” Having just suffered a broken heart, she was in no mood to celebrate anything, and wanted only to hunker down and stay home alone. But her friend would have none of it, and coaxed, coerced and tricked her into finally going out. The lovely experience that followed is artfully told by the author, reminding us all of the healing power of true friendship.

Again on the theme of giving, in The True Meaning of Christmas, Vera C. Teschow touches us with her lovely story “A Canadian ‘Family’ Christmas.” As an only child, after losing her mother to cancer two days before Christmas, she realized she needed to create a new kind of Christmas in her home. At the time, she and her husband were volunteering at a local refugee reception centre, so the following Christmas they decided to participate in a program of inviting a refugee family into their home for a Canadian Christmas dinner. But instead of inviting just one, they opened their home to as many families as could get there. The turkey was donated, and she and her husband prepared the rest. On Christmas Day twenty-five refugees along with friends and volunteers filled their home, bringing the total count to over thirty. Gifts donated by local businesses ensured that every person in the room had at least one Christmas present with their name on it under the tree. Vera says what I know I feel in my heart each time I read her story — that sharing her home with thirty-two strangers turned out to be the best Christmas experience she ever had.

While Vera Teschow had thirty-two visitors in her home that Christmas, in the chapter Angels in Our Midst, veteran Canadian media personality Don Jackson has a different kind of story to share about “Mysterious Visitors.” It seems that while his wife Lydia was in labour with their first child, his father passed away before he was able to meet his new granddaughter. Now, in their home, once each year at Christmas, the front door opens and closes of its own accord admitting what Don and Lydia believe is the essence of his father — come to visit. Beautifully written by one of Canada’s foremost storytellers, I know you will love Don’s touching contribution to this lovely collection of stories as much as I do.

No matter what Christmas tradition you come from, I hope you will find some time this busy holiday season to enjoy these stories. You may choose to read some of them out loud, and share them with your children and your family. Just so you know, Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Christmas books are always appropriate for young readers or listeners — we all work closely with Santa to keep the magic alive.

I hope you will enjoy Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada as much we enjoyed gathering these stories together for you. From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and the best New Year’s ever!

~Janet Matthews

Aurora, Ontario

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