By Andrea Arnold
The Robson Valley is home to people from many different cultures. Most residents have either descended from or have themselves arrived from other countries. Some have held onto the holiday traditions that their families have practiced for many generations. These traditions seem to mostly be around specific types of food, or stories passed down from grandparents, but there are also some traditions that require active participation from the whole family. The Goat touched base with many families in the Valley to find out how they celebrate during the holidays. Turn the page to read about some of the traditions!
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Petr Herstik and his family moved from the Czech Republic 11 years ago. The family has continued to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve as they did prior to the move. Some years, they have a Christmas wreath set on the table and decorated by four candles. Each of the candles are lit on Sunday of the advent time leading up to Christmas (four weeks).
“We have a traditional Christmas Eve dinner – řízek (also known as schnitzel) and potato salad,” he said. Each family has their own recipe for the salad so the tradition varies from family to family. They also have pea soup. Karp (Carp) is also traditionally eaten instead of the řízek however the Herstik’s prefer the latter.
The family also enjoys several traditional Christmas sweets and sweet braided bread. This year they have baked coconut meringue cookies (kokosky), vanilla crescents (vanilkové rohlíčky) and kind of biscotti with walnuts, raisins and chocolate chips (chlebíček). The bread, Vánočka will be made in the coming weeks.
The descendants of Frank and Vera Hulka that still live in the valley also enjoy some of these same food traditions. Grandma would often bake many of these same treats, and now the responsibility has been passed onto children and grandchildren. Granddaughter Rachel Ondang makes her spicy cookies (lebkuken) each year, and their family gathers for dinner and presents on Christmas Eve. My own family has continued the tradition of a Christmas Eve dinner of dumplings (Knedlíky) with chicken or filled with fruit, that we began with our grandparents (as we are not fond of fish).
“We don’t have the tradition of Santa Claus so gifts can be opened on Christmas Eve because we don’t have to wait for the overnight delivery (so no stockings, no cookies and milk by the fireplace either),” said Herstik
A few fun traditions that the family has not practiced in recent years involve cutting an apple crosswise to find out if one will be healthy next year, or throwing a shoe over one’s shoulder to indicate travels etc.
Charlene Jones has recently started learning about her aboriginal heritage. She comes from a Cree Métis background. “I’ve been gathering tidbits here and there every time I go to visit (family),” said Jones. This is the first year she and her family will play the muskrat skull game. The skull is passed around from person to person and each one has to try and put their finger in the skull with your eyes closed, she said. “There is a rhythm to (the game); the breathing, bouncing and the arm movements; it’s harder than you would think.” When her great mosom (grandfather) would play, each person in the group would have an opportunity to play. The winner would get a handmade gift such as a pair of moccasins or something beaded. Jones was recently given skulls from her great mosom and kokum (grandmother). This will be a way to revive that piece of family history.
When Gary Schwartz was a child, his family celebrated Hanukkah. His family would light their Menorah and say prayers in Hebrew. On the Friday evening during the eight days, his family would travel to his grandparents. There, they would light the candle, and the children would receive Hanukkah gilt – chocolate coins wrapped in gold and silver. They played with dreidels and sang the dreidel song.
Schwartz continues to celebrate, along with his wife, in a low-key way. Each evening of Hanukkah, Schwartz lights a candle while saying a short prayer in Hebrew. He and his wife feast on rich food and baking during the eight days. Latkes, beef brisket, and roast chicken are some of the foods they enjoy. Fried food is symbolic because of the significance of oil to the celebration.
Schwartz keeps the celebration of Hanukkah completely separate from any Christmas connection. “It does not have anything to do with Christmas,” he said. It is a Jewish holiday that often falls in December, prior to the 25th.
This is the only thing that the holiday has in common with Christmas. The holiday celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the larger Syrian army. The Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated at this time as well, and It also celebrates a miracle that happened during this time. They wished to light the Temple but could only find enough oil for the Menorah for just one day. Miraculously, the oil allowed the flames to remain lit for eight days.