Their fondest Christmas memories

Well-known Abbotsford residents share their favourites

The Abbotsford News asked some well-known city residents for their fondest Christmas memories and here’s what we received:

The right time to pop the question

One of the favourite memories of Jesse Wegenast, a pastor with 5 and 2 Ministries, will always be the time he asked his wife to marry him.

My favourite holiday memory took place on Christmas Eve 2008, when my wife, Sharalin, said yes to my marriage proposal.

I was absolutely broke, having spent every last cent I had on a ring. I didn’t even have the cash to take her out for dinner and had no idea how to make the proposal memorable and special. But Mother Nature helped me out a little and laid a fresh blanket of snow down on the 23rd for a white Christmas.

So, when I pulled in to her parents’ house for Christmas dinner and saw her walking across the snowy front yard, I thought to myself, “This is as good as it’s going to get,” got down on one knee, and gave her the ring that had been burning a hole in my pocket.

We went inside and were congratulated by her parents (who had already given their blessing to the proposal), and within an hour I found out that I’d be getting married in three months. Nine years and 2.8 kids (baby coming soon!) later, I love her more than ever, and hope to spend many more Christmases by her side.

– Jesse Wegenast, Pastor, 5 and 2 Ministries

Non-negotiable Christmas

Shirley Wilson is the chair of the Abbotsford school board.

Christmas is a time of traditions – non-negotiable traditions – around our home. Annually, I find myself suggesting we scale down. This request is regularly met with stern looks and feet stomping.

Many years ago, we decided to have breakfast for dinner on Christmas Eve. This way, leftovers are in the fridge for Christmas morning and everyone can help themselves. All the sweet and savoury breakfast buffet items are provided, including sparkling apple juice to raise a glass in a spirited toast.

As a family we decided to have a chicken named Turkey for dinner, with all the regular trimmings, including bacon stuffing and feta smashed potatoes. The most poignant tradition of all, and some of our best memories, include my mother giving each of the kids new pyjamas. As Mom aged, she decided to give me money to go buy the pj’s on her behalf. This way, every year they had new grandma pyjamas.

On the first Christmas after my mom died, the kids said I had to get the pyjamas – Dead Grandma Pyjamas. This is the fourth Christmas without mom, and here I am, finding the best heavenly pyjamas my kids could want. This, for me, is non-negotiable.

– Shirley Wilson, Board Chair, Abbotsford School District

Many hungry souls

Lenore Newman is an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley.

My grandparents had 10 children, and every Christmas the clan would make the trip to the Gulf Islands. Their remote homestead was water access only, and the harbour would fill with our family’s fishing fleet as my uncle ferried latecomers by speedboat.

The centre of our celebration was a traditional Christmas lunch. There was turkey and ham, but also crab, shrimp, salmon, and black cod, along with fresh chowder (we gathered the clams ourselves in the cold dark of night). And oh, the dessert. We always had several pies, butter tarts and mince tarts, and mountains of traditional Finnish cookies.

The family divided sharply into those who liked fruitcake and those who didn’t; more for those of us who did. There was a traditional Christmas trifle, eggnog, and strong black coffee next to a giant bowl of punch. Everyone would make multiple trips down the sagging tables tossed together from plywood borrowed from the boatsheds.

Looking back on these lunches, I can’t imagine how difficult it was to feed as many as 50 people in a house with no electricity and a wood-burning cook stove. But at the end of the day, everyone was stuffed, and everyone was happy.

– Lenore Newman, UFV associate professor

He was all alone at Christmas

Simon Gibson is the MLA for Abbotsford-Mission.

With high school graduation behind us, a friend and I decided to apply for hotel jobs. He had been a cook and I had developed some minor office skills.

We both were offered positions at the Tahsis Chalet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The town was not accessible by boat, so we caught a noisy ferry to the village, which had a small but productive sawmill.

We arrived in Tahsis in early December and were assigned a hotel room to share which overlooked an empty parking lot. My friend started immediately as assistant cook and I was the only desk clerk. There were few guests so my job involved spending a lot of time looking out at the incessant rain.

He bought some Christmas lights and a miniature tree which flashed cheerily on the desk in our room.

Two days before Christmas day, he accepted a similar position at the Gold River Chalet, a better situation, and closer to civilization such as Campbell River.

The rain continued. The guests were gone except an unsociable floatplane pilot who couldn’t fly out safely because of the cloud cover.

I awoke on Christmas morning to my friend’s Christmas lights, which he had left for “company.” The rain had caused large pools in the grey parking lot.

A single meal of warmed-over turkey had been left for me which I retrieved and ate in my room. I phoned my parents and had a brief conversation: they were in good spirits sharing the day with family members.

I closed the curtains and lay down on the bed. Alone at Christmas in Tahsis – I didn’t realize it at the time, but this would perhaps be my most memorable Christmas!

– Simon Gibson, MLA Abbotsford-Mission

Pleased with the sweet footprints

Ian MacDonald is the outgoing public information officer with the Abbotsford Police Department.

When my son (now 13) was younger he was intent on gathering evidence about Santa delivering presents or staying up late enough to actually spot St. Nick.

He crafted elaborate plans that involved audio and video and even trip wires that would activate makeshift surveillance equipment. I believe at least part of the intrigue was created by the fact that Santa somehow maneuvered down the chimney with such stealth and speed despite the glass fireplace insert blocking his way at the bottom.

Finally, one year he decided that since technology hadn’t resulted in the proof he was looking for and he was desperately unable to stay awake beyond 10 p.m., he would opt for a low-tech solution. He poured most of a five-pound bag of icing sugar on the hearth and across the floor in front of the fireplace.

Thankfully Santa and one reindeer didn’t see the blanket of sugar dust and walked right through it on their way to the tree with the presents. I think my kid was as pleased with the footprints as he was with the gifts under the tree that Christmas morning.

– Const. Ian MacDonald, Abbotsford Police Department

A Canadian-style Christmas

Ed Fast is the member of parliament for Abbotsford.

Among my most memorable Christmas moments was the only Christmas I have ever celebrated away from home. It was 1973, and I was studying in Germany.

My Canadian colleagues and I had no idea where to spend Christmas and had already resigned ourselves to a lonely celebration when we received a call from John and Mary Klassen to join their family in celebrating the birth of Jesus.

The Klassens, who now reside in Abbotsford, were pastoring a church not far away and had heard that a bunch of Canadians were without a “Christmas home.” We joined them and their children John, Ruth and Tim in celebrating Christmas in quintessential Canadian style, with turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas carols in both English and German, and a reading of the Christmas story. Lots of laughter and conversation made this a most memorable and unexpected Christmas gift.

– Ed Fast, Member of Parliament, Abbotsford

Proud to be the Best Dressed

Jati Sidhu is the member of parliament for Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon.

One of my favourite holiday memories comes from my very first Christmas in Canada.

I was a young man attending college and I was known among my fellow students for two things – being a little shy and always wearing a suit to class. (In those days there were a lot of torn jeans and sandals on campus, so you can imagine I stood out quite a bit.)

In the final week of school, one of my instructors left little notes on our desks recognizing each of us for an accomplishment or something unique about ourselves. I’ll never forget mine: It simply read BEST DRESSED. I was so proud – I felt like sticking to my guns and dressing how I wanted had finally been validated!

Many of my classmates congratulated me and from then on I felt a bit more at ease among them, a bit more like myself.

– Jati Sidhu, Member of Parliament, Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon

A true Christmas miracle

Les Talvio is the executive director of the Cyrus Centre.

My favourite Christmas memory was actually four years ago while my family was preparing and serving Christmas dinner at Cyrus Centre.

Just before dinner was to be served a young boy came inside for the first time, wet, cold and hungry with nowhere safe to go. He had told me that a stranger up by the auto mall (after asking him for money) had told him about Cyrus Centre so he came to check it out.

After collecting some information, we were able to get him some clean warm clothing, a turkey dinner with all the fixings, a hot shower, Christmas presents which were generously donated by the community and a safe place to stay.

We were able to serve up more than a dinner that night. We were able to lend a hand up and provide hope. His eyes welled up with tears as he had expected to be alone and hungry. He said that this was truly his Christmas miracle.

– Les Talvio, Executive Director, Cyrus Centre

Gathering of the family his fondest memory

Henry Braun is the mayor of Abbotsford.

A special memory for both me and my wife, Velma, is the large family gatherings we used to have at my parents’ home every Christmas Eve.

After attending the Christmas Eve church service, my six siblings, spouses, and children – about 50 of us – would pour into my parents’ home to celebrate together. My mom created a feast, which included German meatballs (kotletten) and Christmas cake, and she and my dad had presents for everyone in the family, while the rest of us had exchanged names. Even Santa sometimes made an appearance.

Although the family has grown so large that we now have to meet at the Quality Hotel before Christmas, this tradition of gathering as an extended family continues today and is a highlight of our Christmas season.

– Henry Braun, Mayor of Abbotsford

Gender balance had been restored

Mike de Jong is the MLA for Abbotsford West.

It was late December 1968. The snow was gently falling. Santa’s visit loomed large.

But as a five-year old, I sensed not all was right. I could see worry in my mother and father’s eyes. I could sense that Mom wasn’t feeling quite right despite putting on a brave face for my two sisters and me.

My fears were confirmed two days before Christmas. Mom was gone … rushed to the hospital. Dad told us she was getting the care she needed, and all would be well. But even as kids we knew he was worried.

The magic of Christmas is potent in the mind of a child and even with Mom’s absence my attention eventually shifted to Santa’s coming visit. He did appear that Christmas Eve and left behind his treasures.

Our Christmas morning was interrupted with the ringing of our wall-mounted phone. I could hear the relief in my father’s voice when he spoke. He gathered us children around the phone – and we heard the exhausted voice of our mother announce that this Christmas we had a new brother.

Armed with the knowledge that gender balance had been restored in the family, I turned my attention back to my new table hockey set.

– Mike de Jong, MLA Abbotsford West

A green rocking chair just for her

I grew up in northeastern B.C. in Dawson Creek. We had little, but what we had we cherished.

The youngest of 10, I was constantly the recipient of hand-me-downs and gently used everything. Christmas was the only time of the year we saw something new under the tree.

One year, my father won some very special prizes – a large, maybe 10-pound, bar of chocolate and a box of Macintosh apples. I recall sitting on Dad’s lap, eating curls of chocolate as he shaved them from the block of chocolate.

On Christmas morning, in the toe of the grey wool work “stocking,” I found an apple. Earlier, in the dirt root cellar, on top of the potatoes in the wood bin, I found the most beautiful green plastic rocking chair I have ever seen. All mine, I was certain. Mom told me I had not really seen it, and when I looked again, it was gone. Indeed, I found it wrapped in ribbon under the tree just for me. It was spectacular!

I will never forget what it was like to be surrounded by so many siblings with simply chocolate and apples and love. And a green rocking chair just for me.

– Shirley Wilson, Board Chair, Abbotsford School District

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Shirley Wilson fondly remembers her mom, who made sure her kids had brand-new pyjamas every Christmas.

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