Christmas comes Thursday.
Yes, Christmas; I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa (Dec. 26) or Hanukkah (first day is Dec. 21) though both sound full of fun and tradition.
Each year my twitchy fingers await the fourth Thursday in November, when decorations officially make an appearance in my hometown. It’s a personal rule born of growing up in Ladysmith, where Santa flicks the switch on the Festival of Lights each year on B.C. Hydro’s favourite eve. My memory is of parades filling the streets and our family bakery crammed with people searching for hot sausage rolls, bags of decked-out gingerbread men and the perfect glazed doughnut/coffee combination to share while walking the streets under the glare of a million lights.
I like the bling. Why pretend?
It’s pretty, festive and uplifting.
The traditional breakfast with Santa, and there are several around Greater Victoria, is magical, filled with brilliant smiles. Lighted parades are an excuse to bundle up and hang out with friends and neighbourhood kids.
I search out the perfect gift for the right person, whether it costs $1 or $20, and wrap them each with care to fill the bare spot under my tree before the big day.
I pull out the ornaments in preparation and they flood me with memories: dough ornaments my mom made during the lean years of my childhood, the paper trees glued together in elementary school, and the colourful second-hand train that pretends (because it’s missing a section of track) to run ’round my tree.
But it’s the bling of the heart that really matters.
While living in Port Hardy I had the fortune to be part of the award-winning North Island Gazette Hamper Fund. For 31 years the fund has provided those in need with a traditional Christmas dinner and presents for the children. The newspaper, with the help of non-profit groups on the North Island, organizes, gathers and alongside other volunteers, creates Christmas – delivered.
It’s not an easy economic time anywhere. Last year, hamper fund organizers had to drop the age for kids’ gifts from 16 to 12, and cut the amount of potatoes handed out in half, to five pounds.
On the South Island, the Mustard Seed food bank had to take out a collateral mortgage to make ends meet. And as the Sidney Lions food bank moves into its new municipal building in Iroquois Park, it’s seeing a spike in users – again.
Even as people are stretching budgets, I see generous people walk into the Peninsula News Review office in Sidney.
There’s the North Saanich woman who discovered a bin full of coins after her husband died. Unable to move it, she brings in bagfuls each year for the newspaper’s Coins for Kids campaign. The coin drive is popular among parents seeking to teach youngsters the value of giving to kids who might not get Christmas otherwise.
For years our paper’s charity of choice has been the Kiwanis Toy Drive. It’s never difficult to get a picture of a cute kid dumping pennies and dimes into one of our jars.
The News Review and Gazette aren’t alone. Black Press community newspapers across Vancouver Island climb on board different coin-collecting fundraisers and turn over the cash raised to local causes.
Last year, more than $12,000 was generated by businesses, schoolchildren and readers of the Victoria News, Saanich News, Oak Bay News and Goldstream News Gazette. At the News Review, the community contributed $2,639.30, just shy of the 2009 Coins for Kids total.
That’s impressive bling. But still I look forward to meeting Santa for breakfast at the Shoal Centre on Nov. 26, and watching sparkly floats come parade Beacon Avenue on Dec. 3. I anticipate the gap-toothed grins of children offering hard-earned quarters to their less-fortunate counterparts.
By then I’ll have stopped sitting on my hands to keep away from the trunk where Christmas sits stored all year ’round.
Christine van Reeuwyk writes for the Peninsula News Review.