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This article was published 29/11/2014 (2242 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

My mom was a big believer in Christmas. As in most families, she really was the keeper of the Christmas traditions, and when Christmas Day rolled around, she was often the first person diving under the tree to open presents.

Back in 1963, my family lived in the tiny village of Fort Simpson N.W.T. Fort Simpson is about 500 kilometres west of Yellowknife on an island between the Liard and Mackenzie rivers. In the 1800s, it was a fur-trading site and became an official village when the Hudson's Bay Co. put up a trading post in 1822.

My mom found out the village had never had a Christmas tree or any type of Christmas celebration, so she decided, along with her good friend, to organize one. They got a group of women together to plan a special celebration for everyone to enjoy. They went to the manager of the Hudson's Bay, one of the very few stores operating in the village, to cough up donations. The Esso station manager also stepped forward, as did the local hotel and even the federal government folks. They donated money, candy and food to get the festivities underway.

A tree was cut down in the vast woods around the village, then set up outside, next to the Fort Simpson recreation centre. The Hudson's Bay donated the lights and all the trimmings, and on the night of the celebration, the lights were turned on against the dark, cold sky, and the residents of the community turned out to see it. For some, this was their first time seeing Christmas lights, and some of the older residents were moved to tears. It was pretty amazing.

Santa arrived, too, to hand out Christmas stockings stuffed with small gifts such as chocolate cigarettes (it was the '60s!) and playing cards. Afterwards, in the rec centre, a local band played, and folks got a chance to dance and jig. There was coffee and, of course, all the Christmas baking my mom had done up ahead of time: butter tarts, ginger snaps, cinnamon buns, pies. All in all, it was a pretty successful celebration for a very young woman desperate to celebrate Christmas, even though she was thousands of kilometres away from her home, in a very remote and very tiny place.

My mom maintained her love of the celebration of Christmas wherever we lived. There was always a Christmas tree, wonderful cookies baked and stockings filled to the brim. It wasn't always easy for her, but she managed to pull it off. She passed away in July 2004, leaving me thankful for all the mountains she moved to make sure I never wanted for anything. Every year, I miss seeing her diving under the tree in search of presents.

This year, my first year working for the Winnipeg Free Press, I intend to honour my mom's memory by making sure everyone can enjoy Christmas. I am supporting the Christmas Cheer Board because it stands for the values my mom held dear -- that sharing what we have makes everyone richer. And I'm proud to be part of a community that is making good things happen.

shannon.sampert@freepress.mb.ca

 

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