As a community journalist, I cover every type of event that can happen. The Christmas season counts as a news event in most communities.
I made a return to full-time journalism about six months ago in eastern Ontario and western Quebec, so this has been my first Christmas season in almost a decade fully back on the festive beat. I forgot how much fun it could be. What made it more enjoyable this year is that I was working in communities that were new to me, so it was a great way to get an understanding and appreciation of the local people.
The seasonal coverage started in mid-November when I spent an evening at the annual Country Christmas Party, a fundraiser for the Vankleek Hill Agricultural Society. Over 100 people gathered to enjoy a turkey dinner cooked by the ladies of the Presbyterian church. I was especially impressed that raisin pie was prominently featured as a dessert. Songs were sung, and a skit performed. It was as old fashioned and wonderful.
And then came the craft shows, or artisan fairs as they sometimes are called. I spoke with and photographed woodworkers, candlemakers, and a school principal who now writes children’s books based on his experiences. In these days where buying local seems to be more greatly encouraged, events like those do exactly that.
Next were the parades. I covered Hawkesbury Ontario’s first. It was an evening parade. The attendance was impressive and the community effort among the best I’ve ever seen. I walked the over one mile of street that served as the marshalling area. The high school football team assembled in uniform with a few girls sitting on a float where the students had creatively placed a generator-powered electric fan to blow red and orange streamers to create a fairly convincing campfire. A realtor’s float had The Grinch of Dr. Seuss renown in a jail cell. The town council float was made to resemble a series of Dickensian buildings. The mayor was sitting in one of them at a desk, holding a quill pen, and pretending to be answering mail. The CB radio club even entered the parade with a couple of large, cardboard receivers and handsets decorated with lights.
Hawkesbury’s Santa Claus was highly convincing. The beard was real. He was sitting in a sleigh being drawn by mechanical reindeer that moved up and down.
Two weeks later, it was Christmas parade and festival day in Brownsburg, Quebec. They still have their parade in the afternoon there. It was small, but a lot of effort went into it, and everyone was happy.
The parade ended, Santa Claus climbed down from the top of the fire engine he rode through the village on, and was accompanied by three girls dressed as Christmas princesses who escorted him to a chair in the gazebo on the village green where children waited to see him.
I’ve covered the sobering side of Christmas, too. The fact that people are hungry, lonely, or going without is never far from my mind because of it. I visited the food pantry in Hawkesbury and talked on the phone with the supervisor of the one in Alexandria about the state of their inventories and how many local people were receiving extra boxes of food.
I also talked with organizations that were collecting toys to make sure every local child has something to open on Christmas morning.
And now, my Christmas coverage is over. I feel like I got to know and appreciate my new community and local culture because of it. I’ve made the long trip to my family home in Listowel now and am going to slow down for a few days to enjoy catching up with family and good friends. We’ll gather by our Christmas trees, in our churches, and around our dining tables to celebrate what this season means to us.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone as you celebrate, too.