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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Mark Ondang came from a Dutch Indonesian background. The Dutch established a colony in what is now Indonesia in 1800, resulting in a blend of Dutch and local traditions. The traditions he’s brought with him to share with his family are food-based. A must-have snack for the holiday is Kacang Bawang (deep fried peanuts with garlic and onion). For Christmas Eve, Spekkoek is prepared. “This is a layer spice cake that takes several hours to make as you bake each layer before adding the next,” said Ondang’s wife Rachel. “His mom would make these and send them out to family instead of gifts each year. A gallon of the peanut mix and a cake for each of the seven kids.”
After his mom passed away, he took on the responsibility of making the peanuts, and his daughters took on the cake baking.
When his family came to Canada, they left many of their traditions to help with integration, however, the food always shows up for special days.
McBride resident Jasmine Hoetjes and her family are often in New Zealand for the holidays. This year, they were unable to make the trip. However, the Dutch traditions are close at hand no matter where they are. The family celebrates the Dutch Sinterklaas. “We put a clog out with carrots and apples the evening before, usually the 5th of December,” she said. “In the morning Sinterklaas has filled the clog with Dutch candy and a few gifts.” The family dresses in orange, and each one has a person they give a gift to and make up a poem or story about. Then they play games and eat traditional Dutch treats. Hoetjes says they make speculaas (sweet and spicy image stamped cookies) and boterkoek (Dutch butter cake).
In past years, the family was able to be in New Zealand celebrating with family. Some of the adult family members dress in costume as Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet to help the tradition live on. This year, as Hoetjes and her family were unable to join the festivities overseas, they had a small Sinterklaas celebration of their own.
Thelma Molendyk married into a very large Dutch family, and adopted one of their treats into her holiday baking. “It’s more of a New Year’s thing,” she said. Oliebollen is a deep fried ball of dough, sprinkled post-fry with powdered sugar. Some recipes call for apples, but Molendyk sticks with raisins or currents in her creations. “People think they are a good pre-New Years party treat because they help soak up the alcohol,” she said.
Eric Martin is half Chinese, and his wife Katie Tran is Vietnamese. They celebrate the Lunar New Year which usually falls in late January or early February. The holiday, called Tet, is a three day event that takes weeks to prepare for. In Vietnam, they normally take 3 weeks off to cook, shop, clean and decorate. “Given we are in McBride, we normally just do a bit of cooking some special dishes and try to call our families,” said Martin. “One dish we eat is Thit Kho Tau – pork belly, cooking it slowly in coconut juice – for three days.” Lots of duck eggs are included as well. Over time, the coconut juice goes into the meat, and the meat flavour goes into the sauce. This is served often with white rice, or on rice paper. “For people who are close to us, we would also give out red envelopes with some lucky money in it,” said Martin.
Vietnamese Caramelized and Braised Pork Belly with Eggs (Thit Kho Tau) takes several days to cook during the Lunar New Year preparations. /SOURCED
There are not too many Finnish traditions Emilia Roth has held onto since coming to Canada in 2008, however, there are two food items that have to be included in the Christmas festivities or it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the family has a breakfast of rice porridge or pudding (Riisipuuro). An almond is placed in the pot before it is served, and the one who finds the almond in their portion is believed to have good luck in the coming year.
Another treat that the family enjoys is a Christmas tart (Joulutortta). The puff pastry dessert is shaped like a star with a prune centre, and dusted with powdered sugar. Roth’s family joins her in-laws for Christmas Eve evening to continue the celebrations.
Diane Roth’s family arrived in eastern Canada from France many years ago. Her way of keeping that heritage close is to prepare tourtiere or meat pie for Christmas Eve. She loves to share this piece of herself with her family.
Just three years ago, Yann Asmat moved from France to Canada to begin a new chapter in his life. The first year here they participated in the Community Christmas Dinner in McBride, and last year, they travelled back to France for the holiday. This coming Christmas will be their first in their Robson Valley home. Asmat has many fond memories of Christmas dinner in France. “It was a big feast,” he said. “It took sometimes four hours to eat.” The meals often consisted of many courses or rich food. Usually there were oysters, duck liver foie gras, and other rich samplings. A fowl was also a part of the meal. Asmat remembers the very special feeling that came along with all of the traditions from home. Though his son is still very young, they hope to capture some of the same special Christmas feelings from back home, as they discover what the holiday will look like for them. “I would like to, in the future, have a long table full of food and be surrounded by friends and family,” he said. “But I’m not sure if I can find people who would want to sit for four hours for a meal here.”
Most of these families have also incorporated Canadian traditions into their celebrations. Many of them will have a decorated tree and eat a large meal on Christmas Day. For some, stockings will be hung on the 24th, and the exchange of gifts will occur on the 25th after Santa Claus visits.
Although some of the traditional celebrations look very different from one culture to another, they do have a few things in common: each of these families, along with most North American families, take time over the holidays to spend time with family and friends, singing carols, enjoying food, drink and making memories.