It’s in the still quiet of the night when no one is stirring – not even a mouse – a grandfather clock ticking away the minutes before the big rush. It’s in the crisp crackle of a flame, a fire around which the whole family is gathered sharing a laugh over some chestnuts. It’s in the adoring carols and rich melodies booming at a crowded midnight mass or church service. And it’s in the soup kitchen, where some warm food is accompanied by an even warmer smile, offering sweet respite from the bitter cold.
The spirit of Christmas is in all these situations and many more, as the yearly celebration means many different things to many different people.
Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, is a very significant celebration for Christians around the world, second in importance only to Easter. But it is also a very important cultural tradition for people who don’t consider themselves religious – for them, the holidays are synonymous with family, friendship and generosity.
“I enjoy the family get-together and that closeness that Christmas brings,” says Wellesley Coun. Jim Olender, noting that for his family, a typical Christmas involves plenty of dinners at home and at the homes of his siblings.
“I look forward to the family get-together – not the presents,” he quips, noting that as a child, the idea of a gift-bearing Santa was, naturally, a big deal. But even then, Olender saw more in the holidays than gifts appearing magically beneath a tree.
“I used to enjoy when my great aunts used to come – they were unique; I just enjoyed that get-together.”
Indeed, that generational gap is bridged during the holidays, making for a special time as grandchildren and grandparents, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles visit each other.
For Wellesley Mayor Ross Kelterborn, family time is the highlight of the season.
“One of the big things for me now is to watch the young children, my grandkids, and try and make Christmas meaningful to them, like our parents did for us – that doesn’t mean necessarily from the gift buying perspective,” says Kelterborn, as he reminisces about how as a child he and his family would gather around the radio during Christmas time to listen to the Queen’s address and to get in touch with St. Nick.
“Santa Claus would come on the radio, and I can remember putting our list of things we would like to have for Christmas; we would write it on a piece of paper and then put it in the stove and it was supposed to go up the chimney,” recalls Kelterborn with a chuckle.
For many adults the magic of Christmas, the anticipation leading up to the big night or morning, and the wondrousness of waking up to a tree laden with gifts, of course, dissipates with the years. But it comes back once children – and grandchildren – are born.
“We have young grandchildren, now, which makes (Christmas) all the more fun,” says Waterloo Region Chair and Elmira resident Ken Seiling. With a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and an eight-month-old baby with whom to share Christmas, the Seiling household will be a joyful place during these holidays.
They say that the way to anyone’s heart is through his or her stomach, and without a doubt the Christmas season is a time for forgetting about diets, ascetic eating, and counting calories. Instead, it has all to do with traditional family recipes.
“My mom … makes this really, really good dressing,” says Wellesley Coun. Shelley Wagner, of a recipe that has been handed down through the generations. This holiday season her siblings have decided to compile and put on paper all the recipes made famous by their grandmother. Wagner is hoping the Christmas turkey recipe will be among the offerings.
For Seiling, the Christmas favourite is of a sweeter persuasion.
“I like Christmas cake; it’s one of my weaknesses. Christmas fruitcake is one of my favourites,” he says, before confessing that his sweet tooth really isn’t too discriminatory.
“I have a weakness for Christmas baking.”
In addition to Christmas treats, Seiling has a soft spot for the music of the season.
Until three years ago, he played the organ at his church and directed its choir. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without the music.
“I look forward to getting together with family; I very much enjoy the music of Christmas,” he says. Having played the keys and directed church choirs in a full-time capacity for some four decades, Seiling often misses the big performance on Christmas Eve.
To keep sated during the season, he listens to CDs in his car or at home, and plays piano and sings with family at home.
“I can sing but I’m not a good choral singer; I directed choirs for 40 years but I wouldn’t call myself a good singer, but I miss playing the organ.”
He also attends choral concerts at area churches and in the city whenever he gets a chance.
A passion for music is shared by Woolwich Coun. Ruby Weber.
“It’s not Christmas for me if I don’t get to hear the Messiah (by Handel) at least once over Christmas, and there are generally some really great concerts to attend,” she says, noting that a slew of choral concerts as well as time spent around the piano singing along with extended family is one of her favourite things to do this time of year.
While caroling at church, eating and spending time with family are at the top of Woolwich Coun. Sandy Shantz’s list of favourites during the holiday season, she finds it important to spread the cheer. Volunteerism is a big thing for the Elmira resident, and not just in a local setting.
Just recently, she and her husband sorted food for House of Friendship in Kitchener.
In addition to this, Shantz has plans to continue a neighborhood tradition of inviting neighbours over for a potluck dinner.
“Christmas is a neat time of year, I guess through the story, but also for the feeling that people get of helping each other and it’s nice that we focus on that, we should focus on it more all year around,” says Shantz, noting that time is a great gift. Too often, the realization of this is lost in the consumerist hubbub of the season.
“It gets busy; we’ve cut way back on the gift giving this year and we’re going to do more donations and that kind of thing because you just get a little too caught up in the buying and it’s more stressful and it’s not that we really need things – we’re just buying because,” she says.
Shantz’s colleague on council, Murray Martin, shares a similar belief.
“I always look forward to Christmastime,” he says.
While Christmas involves spending quality time with family and friends it also means bringing cheer and merriment to the neighbourhood, riding with the Optimist Club of Winterbourne and Conestogo on an annual sleigh ride; it also means doing things for others.
After all, for Martin, that’s “what Christmas is all about.”
Helping others in need is and should be a crucial part of the yuletide spirit, he says, noting that in thinking about their own families, people often forget those friends, acquaintances or strangers who could use a little help.
“That’s in the spirit of Christmas, it’s what we should be about … there’s a whole lot of people we forget about, and to put a smile on somebody’s face that’s neglected is a whole lot better than spending hundreds of dollars for one of your own kids that doesn’t need a thing. I really think we need to get back to what Christmas is all about.”