As I get older, I wonder what memories our children will have of Christmas.
What will be their fondest memories? How will they feel about family and the holiday season? Will they feel apart of a bigger, connected family?
These questions come from my own experience. I remember a few special gifts from my youth, including trucks and tractors, trains and snowshoes.
What I remember most, though, was celebrating the season with our extended family.
Our family was no different than any other rural-based families - Christmas was a time of family gatherings. Dad's family was large, and most of them lived close by.
This meant that Christmas was a time of cousins, aunts, and uncles.
When I was young – up to about the age of 10 years of age - our family gatherings were centred around Christmas supper at one the houses in dad's family. Grandma and Grandpa Kingdon would sit at the kitchen table, or on a chair in the living room, while the house would be alive with grandchildren, ranging from toddlers to teenagers.
At that time, Grandma and Grandpa had about 30 grandkids, born of 8 families. There may have been a few other cousins too, from the “other” side of the family, so there seemed to be children everywhere.
Unfinished basements made great play areas, and the upstairs was for hide and seek. The older kids usually had a room reserved for cards and games.
The smells were always of turkey, dessert, and of course wet wool. There would be the annual sharing of cousins gifts – each cousin's name matched to another during the annual drawn the summer before.
There was also the inevitable annual confusion where one cousin got two gifts, while the out-of-luck cousin ending up temporarily empty
handed, as the master list was checked over again.
As you can imagine, the kids spent a lot of time outside. Sometimes the outdoor activity of choice was skating, other times they were centred around the sliding hill.
Every visiting family's vehicle was loaded with hockey sticks, toboggans, skis, saucers, etc. - some brand new from that very morning. The usual thrills and spills were revisited late into the night, once we returned to the house to warm up.
There would also be the usual game of boot hockey. We never called it street hockey, as we didn't usually have streets – sometimes it was played on a cleared patch of ice on the slough or dugout, sometimes it was on the ploughed lane.
One of the last home parties was held at my family's farm. Dad had added a three bedroom addition to the house.
It was largely finished by Christmas, but had no interior walls. For the first time I could remember, we could seat the entire family in one room, at one long extended table.
After supper, the adults retired to the rest of the house, and the kids filled the improvised dining room, playing that year's new board games (Masterpiece was one that comes to mind, dear Baby Boomers), and of course the annual game of “Pit”.
It was only a matter of time before the family outgrew any of our houses. Spouses and grandchildren were adding to the family numbers, and boyfriends and girlfriends were now starting to make regular appearances.
Finally, in 1975, a decision was made to move the family Christmas celebrations to Camp Wannakumbac, on the shores of Clear Lake.
Our family had a long history with the camp, with the Kingdon family being some of the first supporters and councillors at the camp back in the 1950s.
This new tradition started off small. The family gathered at the camp on Christmas afternoon, with the meal fixed in the large kitchen, and there was plenty of room for games and visiting late into the night. It was such a hit that it was decided that it would have to happen again.
The rest is history. Every year since, families have gathered to share Christmas, with the usual 70 to 80 people showing up for the annual get together.
We now rent the camp for four days, with families staying overnight in the cabins.
What sustains this kind of interest, nearly 40 years later? Basically, the camp provides us with space. Great great grandkids are now regular attendees, along with the smattering of new in-laws that seem to be added each year.
Grandma and grandpa Kingdon would be proud of their family, where most of the 153 current family members now make time to attend the camp at least every few years.
After 40 years, there are more than a few camp traditions. Santa comes to visit, despite his busy schedule the night before, and now there is room for the construction of large, complex jigsaw puzzles, providing an example of many hands making light work (or of blaming someone for hiding the last piece).
The camp's outdoor location is the other draw. We've always been an outdoor family, and we spend a great amount of time outside.
The 1970s saw the emergence of cross-country skiing, and most of the family was soon gliding along the “piste”.
More recently, there has been a resurgence of snowshoeing, so now the snowbanks are lined with “les racquets”. Hockey too remains a favourite, and I personally love it when Uncle Ray, our 84 year old net minder, comes out to show the youngsters how it's done.
The biggest draw, though, is the sliding hill. It lies in front of the dining hall, where large picture windows allow parents and grandparents the opportunity to watch the action.
Children disappear after supper, heading outside once they find their mitts and boots among the pile at the door.
I've been lucky to have the family I share with all my Kingdon cousins. Hopefully our girls feel the same way, and that the camp makes up a part of their fond Christmas memories.
My wish is that you and yours feel the same way about your Christmas traditions. Whether you celebrate in small groups, or in large, I wish all readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Ken Kingdon lives and works in the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve. Call him at (204) 848-7240 if you have any stories to share.