Home for the Holidays

Some of the CoM administration - and the SMSS president - share their favourite winter holiday traditions as the college prepares to shut down for a week

The holidays are different for everyone at the College of Medicine, whether they’re the staff in the Dean’s office, the faculty still working clinic hours over the break, or our students who disperse to all corners of Canada to spend time with their family.

A few of our administration - and the SMSS President -  have written about some of their favourite holiday traditions, which you can read below.

The College of Medicine will be closed the week of December 26-30, and will re-open on January 3.

Have a safe and happy holidays!

Kiefer Lypka, SMSS President

Winter is something that not everyone gets to experience. Not even everywhere in Canada does one get to experience the snow, the cold, and the length that comes with a winter in Saskatchewan. For these reasons, and all the activities that come because of it, winter has long been my favourite season.

My favourite way to experience this was during the holiday’s at our family cabin at Turtle Lake, 2.5 hrs northwest of Saskatoon. Although dad would never go for a real tree to be put up in the cabin, because of the spruce needle mess that would be left in the floor creases for years to come, Christmas at the cabin was as real as it gets. Not only would we bring the individual presents all the way to be stored under the tree, but my mom would bring each of our stockings to be hung above the fire place.

Growing up with my 3 siblings (4 if you count the howling beagle), our time at the cabin was spent in three ways. Our 1st priority was to always build the best and biggest snow fort possible. This was usually placed strategically by the road where we could defend the cabin from anyone who came to invade, but since no one ever did, it usually ended with a free-for-all snowball fight until one of us rage-quit by destroying the very fort we just all built together. 2nd way to spend the holidays was pond hockey. One of our neighbours (always the same guy) would clear a rink and that didn’t matter whether the lake froze smoothly, or was furrowed with cracks and ridges; we didn’t care. We’d skate in the mornings, and play hockey in the evenings. The 3rd was our time spent begging mom or dad to take us out tobogganing. This was done using the quad where we had tied a saucer, to a GT-racer, to another GT-racer, to the quad. As there were 4 of us kids we could have 3 riding, and one on the back of the quad as the spotter. We’d get pulled through the trails in the forest, over the ramp we’d build in front of the cabin, and out onto the lake until someone fell off; then we’d proceed to rotate back one position, so we cycled through the spots.

Whether it was snowing and -5°C and we’d spend all day outside, or it was -25°C and we’d only make it for a half hour, the holidays were spent together as a family. Although this tradition has become less reachable in the past few years with the kids spread around, those memories made growing up are ones I hope to relieve in the future.  

Marek Radomski, Vice-Dean Research
With my wife’s and my Polish roots, we tend to celebrate holiday season in a very traditional way we learned from our parents and grandparents, and passed have on to our daughters and grand kids.

The day we love to be together with the closest family is the Christmas Eve. Traditionally, you start your Christmas Eve dinner when the first star shines on the sky by sharing bread and wishing each other healthy and prosperous New Year. On our very decorated Christmas table there is always one extra dinner set prepared for a stranger that may knock on our door and ask for the respite. Although I do not recall having an unexpected guest for dinner, over the years we enjoyed company of friends and colleagues from all over the world.

My wife Ania, our chef extraordinaire, serves beet and wild mushroom soups followed by fish and various dumplings filled with cabbage and wild mushrooms. As Polish wine is rather lacking, I usually serve my favorite Spanish Rioja, and for dessert we have some homemade chocolate, coffee, walnut and coconut cakes and my very favorite poppy seed cake.

After the meal we sit by Christmas tree and sing carols. Kids (and not only kids) may then find some gifts under our Christmas tree.

With a very traditional Polish Christmas greeting: “Wesołych świąt”!

Greg Power, Chief Operating Officer
This year will be the first year I’m not in either Nova Scotia or New Brunswick for the holidays.

That has had me thinking a lot about traditions, both old and new. When I think about traditions back on the east coast, my mind drifts to my childhood where my sister and I would sit on the floor of our family home in Lower Sackville, NS, in the glow of the tree and pester Mom and Dad to open just one gift early. We would snack on “Bits ‘n Bites” and drink unholy amounts of ginger ale out of holiday glasses we picked up at Arby’s (yes, that Arby’s) sometime in the 1980s.

Fast forward to being grown-ups and all that really changed was the ginger ale got swapped out for Spanish bubbly, while Mom and Dad laughed at their two kids growing more animated in telling stories with each glass consumed.

Although there is no holiday trip back to Nova Scotia this year, I did just get back from a late November visit to Halifax to partake in all of my Mom’s holiday delicacies - meat pies, fruit cake and the world’s best, melt-in-your-mouth shortcake cookies - and to dissect the recent baseball season with my Dad.

In the spirit that brought us out west, and saw us fall in love with life on the prairies, this will be a year of new traditions for my wife and me. There are a few pre-holiday parties with new friends here in Saskatoon and we’re going to try out a week in Mexico over the university break.

We’ll sneak in some old traditions as well and look forward to sharing Christmas morning laughs with our family over Skype, perhaps from where the water meets the beach if the Wi-Fi extends that far. I’ll even smuggle some Bits ‘n Bites in my luggage to make it feel like old times.

Preston Smith, Dean of Medicine
Every room in all of our homes are full of decorations at Christmas. Before children, and when they were young, Jane would spend hours making sure everything was perfect. Then came the time when the girls wanted to help and Jane had to adjust to the imperfect perfection of a tree decorated by the love and excitement of little hands.  You could always tell the age of the three girls by the placement height of most of the ornaments.  Jane puts up decorated garlands all over the main floor, placing every small bunch of baby breath and tiny red flowers individually by hand every year.  She finally clued in to making a map on the boxes and taking pictures, and now she just follows her "recipe" and doesn't have to rethink the design. In fact, it takes Jane a month to put up all the decorations so she starts in November.  So no visiting during that month.  It looks like we are moving in or out.

Christmas cooking and baking on the other hand is mostly all Preston.  At the end of November or first of December, Preston takes out recipes that go back three-generations to make fruit cake, plum pudding, and a sweet Christmas bread we call plum loaf even though there are no plums in it.  Jane and Preston make about seven different kinds of cookies - candy canes, almond crescents, thumbprints, chocolate bonbons, shortbreads, maple yule logs, Scandinavian almond bark.  Every year, Preston's father would make something he called potted meat.  Preston loved it although no one else would eat it, and it was his favourite breakfast food.  The recipe is entirely in Preston's father's head, and now that he can not make it any more, Preston is experimenting each year to reach his father's perfection.

Christmas Eve brings a meal borrowed from our Acadian neighbors back east - Tourtière a la Preston, and Christmas Eve mass. On Christmas Day, gifts are opened in the morning accompanied by mimosas., and at supper time those of the family who can attend are treated to a turkey dinner with all the fixings.

As our girls have all grown, and some are married with children of their own, our Christmas traditions are evolving.

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