Merry McMurray

There can be no doubt that Christmas is right around the corner; the temperature has dropped considerably, as seems to be the trend for most December 25ths I recall here, parking at the mall has become atrocious and only the brave venture into the grocery stores. The slow slide into the holiday season has now sped up into the final few hours and then…Christmas will arrive in Fort McMurray.

I find myself feeling reflective, as I often do when the year begins to wind down and thoughts turn to the events of the year past and those of the year yet to come; and as I ponder all these things while wrapping gifts and baking cookies and trying to find a parking spot at the mall I find myself particularly reflective on the merry nature of our community.

McMurray Merry, you query? How could we be merry, given the challenges we have seen in the last few years, from economic downturn to devastating fire?

Much like Bob Cratchit and his family in Dickens’ famous tale “A Christmas Carol”, being merry – and making merry – is not dependent on one’s circumstance and status. Ol’ Bob and his family are quite merry indeed, despite their poverty and Tiny Tim’s medical state, while old Scrooge “bah humbugs” through the season despite his wealth and apparent good health (give his advanced age in an era not known for long life expectancies).

What we have seen in the various retellings of this tale is that being merry is not inherent in us; we all have the chance to make things merry, and in particular this merriment seems best found when making it happen for others who may find merriment elusive.

Take, for instance, the local Santas Anonymous initiative. Every year, this student led venture at Father Mercredi High School enables families across the region to enjoy Christmas with gifts for the children and food for the table. In the last two years, the demand on this program has increased exponentially, showing the need that now exists in our community; and just as in every year the students and the staff advisors worked with community volunteers to collect donations, wrap, package and deliver Christmas to hundreds of families in our region. They are indeed the very embodiment of making merry, I think.

And then there’s groups like the folks at YMM Magazine, Hines Health Services and Country 93.3, who partnered this year to develop the Santas Anonymous Cookbook, soliciting recipes from local people, printing them in a small-batch and highly collectible cookbook, and then selling them with proceeds going to support the very initiative I mention above. When they asked me for a recipe I was pleased to send my mother’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe (although my daughter was mildly aghast when I revealed I had shared this with the world, as she thinks of this recipe as a family heirloom, but she acquiesced when I noted that it simply meant Grandma’s love was going to spread just a bit further).

Of course there is the annual Syncrude Food Drive to benefit the Wood Buffalo Food Bank; this year what a pleasure it was to stand outside a store door and ask people to consider donating. And donate they did, returning to me with hands full of red bags packed with food for the clients of the food bank, providing fresh stock for shelves that often begin to look a bit bare at this time of year.

And then there are the initiatives from individuals, like my friend Blake who just began fundraising this month as part of fulfilling his dream to run the Boston Marathon. Blake, who has endured myriad heart issues, is an avid runner and next year he will run the Marathon through participation in the support of fundraising for rare disease research, advocacy and support; and what could be better than fundraising to support research into a rare disease that struck one of our own littlest community members, Tessa Tough? This past fall I had the great pleasure of seeing Blake run in Fort McMurray Half Marathon and was even able to arrange to have Tessa and her mom Dawn meet him at the finish line to hand him his medal, a profoundly special moment to witness. If there are any people who know how to make merry for others, it is perhaps these kind folks who despite their own challenges find ways to make life better for others; and while this may not strictly be a Christmas initiative it simply shows the generous spirit and kind nature of the people of this community.

And how about local builder Shawn Chaulk and the team at Stratford Homes, who upon seeing on the Facebook page of one client that all they wanted for Christmas was to be home again after losing their house in the wildfire, put in extra hours and time and effort in order to be able to give her the key and welcome her home before December 25 and well before the anticipated key release date?

I could go on and on and on. This year I have friends who will be home for Christmas for the first time since the fire; and I have friends who continue to wait for their homes to be completed. I know people who have family here for the holidays, others who are travelling to be with theirs, and some who will spend it with friends – or volunteering at the annual Christmas Day dinner that feeds those in need of a place to be on that day in our community.

And as I write this, my daughter sleeps downstairs, home after her first semester at University, and my niece is curled up on the couch, here to spend the holidays with her cousin-who-is-more-like-a-sister and I.

I am so very fortunate to have had a part in raising these two remarkable young women, and what I am perhaps most proud of is the way in which they look for ways to enrich the lives of others, regardless of what is happening in their own world. If I have done nothing more than been part of creating more Cratchits than Scrooges, then I think I have done well in this world.

And right here in Merry McMurray? There is nary a scrooge to be found, even when lines in stores are long, parking spots are scarce and the time to Christmas is ticking down.

The final line in “A Christmas Carol” is perhaps my favourite. Scrooge, after learning the error of his ways, reforms and learns to not only embrace but live the spirit of Christmas, and not only one day a year but all year long. And in this same way, I believe it can always be said of Fort McMurray that we know how to keep Christmas well, through making the world brighter for others – on a daily basis, and not just one day of the year.

Merry Christmas, Merry McMurray.

And god bless us, everyone.

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