The Szpak family poses for a Christmas photo after exchanging oplatek

Cultural traditions were big in Szpak household in Langford

West Shore residents share their unique Christmas traditions

For some, the holidays can look like something straight out of a Disney storybook, but some West Shore residents have written their own stories.

Langford Coun. Lillian Szpak blended her Canadian traditions with her husband’s Polish roots to give their children a unique celebration each year.

“It was a really special event,” she said.

Their celebrations begin Christmas Eve, with Polish traditions. Family members gather and wait to see who can spot the first star in the night sky.

“The kids were excited to look for that first star,” she said, adding that once it was found, the family can exchange gifts with each other. Of course, Santa would still come later that night to deliver his presents.

Once all of the gifts from family members are opened, they sit down for Vigilia, a traditional meatless dinner with symbolic dishes that include such items as borsch, dumplings and a three-bean salad.

During dinner, a traditional Polish breaded wafer is also shared.

“We’d give each other a wish as we exchanged bread,” Szpak said. Her mother-in-law used to have the wafers, which were usually stamped with a manger scene and shipped to Canada from family members still in Poland. It was quite the event when the package arrived in the mail before Christmas.

The evening usually finished with a midnight mass.

“The children felt like it was a really special night,” Szpak said, adding that staying up late and lighting Advent candles helped create that atmosphere.

Christmas Day was celebrated more with Canadian customs, she said, opening gifts from Santa and enjoying a turkey dinner with all of the fixings. “It’s two dinners back to back, but they’re very different. Our children were raised with that tradition.”

With Canada being so diverse, Szpak said, it’s important to maintain the traditions of other parts of a family’s heritage.

Some of those alternative Christmas traditions came early this year to Highlands Coun. Gord Baird’s home.

His wife, Ann, also a Highlands councillor, broke her wedding ring so Baird hand-crafted her a new one, just in time for Christmas.

When asked how often she breaks her ring, he joked: “I guess it depends how mad she gets at me.”

While he said it’s his duty to craft her a new one every time she breaks one (she’s on her fourth), the effort fits in with their holiday traditions. This environmentally conscious husband and wife team tends to lean towards minimalism during the holidays.

“We don’t go out and buy a lot of stuff,” he said. “We try to make something for each other.”

For them, the holidays are about good food and making sure their celebrations fit their environmental values.

In terms of food, Baird said, “there’s a lot of chocolate involved.” And their celebrations also start on Christmas Eve with a sushi dinner. “Sushi is a big part of prepping for the morning.”

In the morning they exchange those handmade gifts, “not sharing much, but giving something special,” he said. “It’s about living close to our values.”

In the evening they attend a big family dinner that’s more of a potluck, buffet-style. “Everything is very much aligned with our values.”

katie@goldstreamgazette.com

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