One of our traditions, when my boys were little, was to point to long-term care facilities and say, “who lives there?” then we’d all answer “a farmer! … a teacher! … a soldier! … a nurse!”. Basically, name any occupation that a three-year-old knows and they probably live inside those big grey buildings set back from the road.
The holidays make us think of our own traditions. Some traditions start as inside jokes between friends, and others are passed down through generations.
In my childhood, our Christmas traditions were based on travelling for the entire two weeks of winter break. Traditions born from the closeness of having no access to your own space, friends or entertainment. Our family was everything over the holidays. Our traditions involved the classics: grandparents, cousins, food, gifts and fights over who got to sing the best parts of the “12 Days of Christmas”.
We also had ridiculous traditions that I won’t go into because they’re simply not up for discussion.
As we grew up, my sisters and I started sharing the holiday with friends and boyfriends. Any time they laughed at a stupid hat or song, or told us the casserole was in fact, not delicious, we’d toss out the icy words “it’s tradition,” as our way of saying “This is what we do. Suck it. It’s simply not up for discussion”.
From where to hang ornaments, to who walked downstairs first, we had dozens of teeny traditions that were based on being at our grandmother’s houses.
I am fortunate to have been the granddaughter of two educated, progressive and caring women. One of my grandmothers was a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease, and through living with her, I had daily experience with the effect that one person can have on another. If I entered a room unhappy and sullen, she would mirror it back to me. If I entered smiling, she would radiate peace.
My other grandmother was a lifelong nurse. She was an example of compassion, intelligence and love. She was a terrible cook but she was witty, hilarious and fun.
Eventually, my grandmother packed up her Christmas ornaments and casserole dishes, and moved herself into long-term care.
Every time I visited my grandmother in long-term care, I’d stop to visit her best friend Dorothy, who lived in the same building. Dorothy had no family close by, and loved the visits and handmade cards my kids would bring her.
It’s with these three women in my heart that I started thinking of how to reach out to socially isolated adults, and those living with the isolation of dementia. It’s in their honour, and the honour of many other amazing men and women who built our cities, cleared our fields, grew our communities, answered the call of duty and who looked towards the future.
A new tradition was born.
Every year, with help from neighbours and friends we coordinate making and hand-delivering Christmas Cards to hundreds of seniors in our community.
Over the past ten years, my neighbours have helped create thousands of holiday cards to bring to KW’s golden generation.
As with most of our traditions, COVID-19 has asked us to rethink and adjust. This year we’ll be making fewer cards and we won’t be able to deliver them in person.
We’ll be away from the people that we cherish most, we’ll miss out on the inside jokes and terrible casseroles, but we will have the opportunity to introduce new traditions into our holidays.
Residents and staff of long-term care have been hit hard by the isolation of COVID-19, so I encourage you to reach out to the closest home in your neighbourhood to ask if you can help make the holidays more special.
Laura McBride is a resident of downtown Kitchener, photographer and artist. She is a passionate community builder and one of the creative forces behind the Hohner Ave Porch Party and Central Fairies-Fairy Doors.
Find her @CentralFairies.