Family Life


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Christmas traditions with CBC Toronto’s Anne-Marie Mediwake

Anne marie mediwake and family - christmas traditions with cbc toronto’s anne-marie mediwakeFor many years it was just the five of us: me, my parents Mervyn and Muriel, and my older and younger sisters Naomi and Becky.

My father was raised Buddhist in Sri Lanka and converted to Christianity shortly after I was born. My mother grew up attending a conservative Christian church in Scotland. They really did not mix any traditions, but instead adopted new ones when living in Brooks, Alberta. It is very typical of that generation of immigrants (early 70s) to value blending over holding personal cultural traditions, especially in rural Alberta. Most immigrants from that time raised their kids as “Canadian” as possible.

One of the neatest things about my family traditions is that they started with us. We were new to Canada and most of our holiday rituals are borrowed, but over the years we’ve made them our own. We spent every Christmas with out ‘fr-amily’, the Schalms, who are Ukrainian and German. Auntie Liz’s perogies and cabbage rolls were a highlight and to this day I miss all five flavours of perogies at Christmas. Sigh… So our holiday traditions are Sri Lankan-Scottish-Ukranian-Dutch & American (we now have green bean casserole courtesy of my brother-in-law from Memphis!)

Christmas Eve is very special. Whether we are in the U.S. or Canada, on Dec. 24 we will dress up and attend Christmas Eve candlelight service. I love the carols, especially Joy to the World and Oh Come all Ye Faithful (it was my organ solo in the third grade).

After that we gather at my mum’s or sister’s home, nibble on hors d’oeuvres and my mum’s Scottish Shortbread. Then, around the tree, we are all allowed to open ONE gift – the Christmas Jammies. Grandma buys all of us grandkids and parents new jammies. I started buying my kids matching PJs when they were born, and every Christmas morning, we take a picture of them in those PJs. It is the one and only time I dress them the same.

The kids put out the special “Santa Plate” with cookies, and they wear their matching Christmas jammies to bed.

Stockings are a tradition I started with my own family. The kids open those first. We fill them with little things like books and markers, socks and ‘cool’ underwear. They are still young enough that Spiderman and Disney Princess panties are something to be excited about…Oh, and I recycle some of their Halloween candy into Christmas candy bags…sneaky.

My husband’s background is Dutch and they have a couple of fantastic traditions we’re making our own. Everyone is given a solid chocolate letter in their stocking and last year we experimented with a modified ‘Sinterclass’. Each family member puts out their wooden shoes by the fireplace stuffed with carrots and straw for the reindeer. Santa then leaves a small gift inside the shoes. It is more fun now that they are older and no longer hit each other with the shoes!

Later in the afternoon our extended family gathers at my parents’ or sister’s home for a huge Christmas feast. There is turkey and ham, stuffing, and Scottish trifle (my mum’s is the best!). Before we eat, someone reads the Christmas story, then we pull open Christmas crackers and dig in!

In the evening, we relish leftover turkey buns (my fave: turkey, with cranberry sauce and ranch dressing) and play board games or snuggle up to watch one of the new Christmas movies.


There is a bit of a trick to buying for three kids who are all the same age. We watch out for triplicate of certain toys – no one needs three Leap Pads…

We have two daughters and fortunately, they have very different interests, so this cuts down on the duplication issue – no double Doras!

Triplets do offer an advantage in that they are used to sharing, something we encourage. So there are ‘shared gifts’ under the tree – the label reads “to the Konynenbelt Kids”. These are usually board games, music and puzzles.

Balancing out the gifts while acknowledging their differences takes a little extra planning. For example – if we are buying something we know they will share – like Playmobil, or Lego, we try to find a figurine for each of them, tailored to their personality. A princess for Annabel, something with animals for Libby and a pirate for Maxim.

I have worked out two tricks for remembering who wants what. I have a close friend take them to a toy store and write down what they are most interested in or excited about. Also, I have them write a letter to Santa. The kids know he brings only one or two of those gifts. We round out with only a couple more, otherwise we would be tripping over toys.

We also take the kids to select presents for the local toy drive. I am proud of them – they get really excited about choosing a gift for a child their age. I hear hilarious predictions from them about how these kids will react. This year we are also using the World Vision gift catalogue to buy for families in need. They are fascinated by the process of buying farm animals. It’s a great way to teach them about giving, and understanding needs vs wants.

Holiday faves

Oh, I am a Christmas crazy, I admit it. I love Christmas and try to stretch it out as long as I can. My favourite holiday traditions start in November with decorating the house and setting up the tree, then watching Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (CBC is playing it this year!) My kids loooove this movie. My daughter Libby was Rudolph for Halloween! 

Part of our decorations include a nativity scene Darryl and I bought as newlyweds in Old Montreal. Some days I’ll walk by and there is a Star Wars figurine worked in there…Darth Vader tried to steal baby Jesus’ gifts once.

The first snowfall, we bake cookies and watch “The Polar Express”.

At the beginning of December we put together our Gingerbread House. It’s just a grocery store kit, with some extra candy to bling it up, but a very special tradition. This is one of those things you don’t want three of so each child takes a portion to decorate as their own. It is hilarious to see their personalities in the candy placement. Typically, the girls take the roof pieces, and Maxim takes the front and back doors. Libby’s section is delicate and precise, Maxim likes the building portion and Annabel’s side has every space possible covered in candy of all colours!

I started collecting Christmas ornaments the year Darryl and I were married. Every time we travel we pick one up, and it is so much fun to relive those memories as we decorate the tree. They range from a disco Elvis from Graceland to an embroidered crown from the Queen’s Jubilee in London. The kids love hearing us tell the stories from “back then”.

I also started buying each child an ornament every year. The idea is when they are older and celebrating their own Christmases, these ornaments and the memories attached will go with them.

a man carrying two children

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