Old or new, Manitobans say holiday traditions are about bringing people together

Cracking open the eggnog, crafting a new ornament for the tree or getting cozy on the couch to watch a Santa-themed movie — everyone has their own tradition to bring family and friends together over the holidays.

Whether traditions involve silly hats and songs or healing after tragedy, holidays are about sharing love

People across the province will be getting together over the holidays, but Manitobans say the special part about tradition is getting people together. (CBC)

Cracking open the eggnog, crafting a new ornament for the tree or getting cozy on the couch to watch a Santa-themed movie — everyone has their own tradition to bring family and friends together over the holidays.

While some are more traditional — like a big meal and stockings hung with care — others are unique, grown from the love of a family or community. 

Whether observing traditions generations-old or brand new, Manitobans know when it comes to holidays the best part is celebrating together.

Hat-tipping tradition

With stomachs full from a Christmas Eve supper and the dishes already washed, Sandy Allford's family crowds around the table ready to belt out their favourite carols.

But it's not the songs that bring the 20 or so family members to tears with laughter — or the fact that they can't carry a tune. It's what's on everyone's heads. 

"We have everything from moose antlers to light-up Dr. Seuss hats to Frosty the Snowman top hats," Allford said with a laugh. 

Sandy Allford's family has amassed quite the collection of strange and wonderful holiday hats as part of their tradition. (Submitted by Sandy Allford)

"The hat bin," as it has become known, started about 30 years ago. At the time, Allford's mother would host Christmas Eve dinner and wear a Santa hat. Allford started wearing a silly hat too, and then her siblings and cousins got in on the fun.

In the decades following, as Allford started hosting the dinner, the hat bin filled up as the family expanded. 

"There's a Rudolph hat, there's a black buffalo plaid hat, there's just everything, and everyone has their favourites," she said.

"And for the ladies who don't want to ruin their hair, they have these little headbands that bobble and light up."

All year long, family members search garage sales and store shelves hoping to find the new Christmas cap that will make everyone laugh. 

And when it comes time to don the hat, the table also transforms into a strange and silly choir — but Allford said it is absolutely perfect. They've collected old song sheets and spend an hour going through all the classics before finally ending with Here Comes Santa Claus.

When the hat bin is opened at Sandy Allford's house, everyone grabs their favourite silly headwear. (Submitted by Sandy Allford)

Even though the kids, now grown, might sigh at their mother's custom, "if they don't do it they are very upset," she said.

"I just think it's something that brings people together in the spirit of fun and love and laughter," Allford said, holding back tears. 

"Everybody wants to have that sense of belonging and I think that's what does it for us. This is our family and we wouldn't have it any other way."

Hometown holiday tradition in the making 

No one would doubt that Desiree Scott is proud to be a Winnipegger. The Olympian and veteran member of Canada's women's soccer team has travelled the world representing her Manitoban roots with pride. 

So heading home for the holidays is always special. 

But this year she decided to put the feelers out for a new tradition. 

"Obviously with the holidays, it is the time of year to give, and I have some time off finally after a crazy busy year," she said.

"The community has supported me throughout my soccer career and I love getting involved with the kids and just with different schools, so I just figured it's the perfect time."

Desiree Scott often volunteers when she returns to Winnipeg, but she's hoping to make it a holiday tradition. (Alana Cole/CBC)

The midfielder put a call out on Facebook looking for volunteer opportunities in the city while she was home for the holidays. Since then, she has received more than 100 requests to stop by soccer camps, visit teams and even show up to a birthday party. 

While she only has a few hours of free time — between training and putting up the tree with her family — she said it was important to show her gratitude to the community that supported her throughout her career. 

"Winnipeg is it for me. I literally wear Winnipeg and my heart on my sleeve," she said. 

Since the response has been so great, Scott said she plans to make her hometown volunteering a new holiday tradition.

Especially since the team is based in British Columbia, the Manitoban says there's nothing quite like coming back east to the comfort of home, community and the snow. 

"Christmas without snow is not Christmas to me," she said with a laugh. 

"I definitely look forward to being back in the city and having a taste of snow, but the windchill can chill out.

"Merry Christmas to everyone in the city."

A feast for murdered or missing loved ones

Many holiday traditions celebrate the joy the season can bring — but that can be very difficult for some families.

While Christmas is often about large family gatherings, for hundreds of Manitoba families, the holidays are a reminder of the loved ones who have been murdered or are still missing.

More than 200 families of Indigenous women who have been murdered or are missing gather together each year for a feast — to find support in one another's company and remember their missing family members. 

"We get to feast together, we laugh just to be together, we cry together, we be silly," said Gerri-Lee Pangman. 

"It's exciting and it's something that we look forward to every year." 

Gerri-Lee Pangman was one of the people who attended a session with staff from the national missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry on March 30. She holds a photo of her sister, Jennifer McPherson, who was murdered in 2013 in British Columbia. (Trevor Brine/ CBC)

Pangman's sister, Jennifer McPherson, was murdered in 2013 on a remote island located off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. 

"My sister was a loving, caring soul. She was just generous and just to be around her you felt her love, her unconditional love for everyone."

McPherson loved nature, so when it came to the holidays she wouldn't cut down a tree. Instead she would take scraps of sticks and put them together, Pangman said.

"We miss her really, really, really hard and deeply this time of year," she said. 

"This time of year, for many MMIWG families, including myself, it's very heavy. We miss our loved ones more deeply during the holiday season."

Her aunt Jennifer Johnston was also killed in 1990.

But there is support in numbers, especially with a family suffering the loss caused by a tragic death, or a family still without answers, Pangman said. That's the purpose of the annual dinner. 

It's a tradition that was built out of a need to honour the women and girls, but also to give the families a safe space to laugh, smile and remember those who cannot be around for the holidays, she said.

Now in its sixth year, Pangman said the event has grown and become an important aspect of healing over the holidays. 

"We became an extended family that support each other as we walk this road together. We all understand and have a special bond," she said. 

"It gives families a slight relief, even if it's just for that moment, that evening."

With files from CBC's Information Radio