The world of Christmas 

Sara Leach checks out how Whistler families from around the globe maintain their holiday traditions

By Sara Leach

It’s Thursday morning at the Alta Lake School. Amanda Sandahl sings “Santa Lucia” as a group of preschoolers, dressed in capes or gingerbread men costumes, stand in front of their parents, holding candles. For most of the children, this is their first taste of Lucia, a Christmas celebration from Sweden. Sandahl has organized the Lucia breakfast at the school to bring one of her country’s traditions to her new home in Canada.

In Sweden, Saint Lucia symbolizes the return of the light at the darkest time of the year. Her day is celebrated on December 13 th with a procession of children through each town. One girl is chosen in each village to represent Lucia. She is followed by girls with glitter on their dresses and in their hair, boys wearing hats with stars and children dressed as gingerbread men and gnomes.

At the Alta Lake School the students have learned several Lucia songs. They invite their parents to school for a special breakfast of porridge, Lucia buns and gingerbread cookies.

For those of us who live apart from our families and our countries of origin, as so many do in Whistler, how many of our traditions stem from our roots, and how many new traditions do we create?

Traditions can be as steeped in history and religion as the re-enactment of the three wise men delivering gifts to Jesus, and as modern as a board game tournament after present opening around the tree.

Sandahl and her family, who moved to Whistler from Sweden two years ago, will keep many of their Swedish traditions alive when they celebrate their first Christmas here this week. In Sweden, Christmas celebrations start on the 23 rd , when the tree is brought in and decorated. Families get together to eat ham sandwiches and drink glögg , a mulled wine served with raisins and almonds. At 3 p.m., 90 per cent of the country watches a collection of Donald Duck shows on television.

For Sandahl’s family, the 24th begins with ham sandwiches and porridge, followed by skiing. In the afternoon there is a big feast of meatballs, Janssons Temptations (potato gratin with anchovies), herring, salmon, ribs, and ham as the main event.

In Whistler, The Sandahls plan to celebrate on the 24 th with family, and to carry on the tradition of skiing on Christmas day.

“Santa comes in the evening and knocks at the door, and starts handing out presents to the kids,” Sandahl says. “The 25 th and 26 th are also holidays, but just for relaxing, and eating more ham.”


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