One student’s experience with coming to Canada, Christmas, and consumerism
Whenever my siblings and I asked for a family vacation, my Nigerian mother would say: “How can you go on a vacation when you are already at a vacation destination?” For most Nigerians back home, travelling to a country like Canada would be seen as travel destination but also a place to dwell. However, what happens after we settle here? We consume ourselves with school, work and bills, then travel back home once in a while during the holidays. This has become a repetitive cycle, and sadly it is one that my family found itself in for many years until recently.
The meaning of holiday has changed drastically for my family over the years. In Nigeria, we made the most out of every holiday. This included going back and forth visiting family members from my mother’s side to my father’s side and them paying us a visit. There was always an exchange of cooked meals between neighbours and decorating the house for Christmas.
Living in Canada has completely changed these practices because we are no longer surrounded by the families we used to visit and spend time with. Consequently, the holiday spirit died down in my family. The cold weather that I am still not used to prevents me from partaking in fun activities in Montreal such as celebrating Christmas at Parc des Compagnons-de-Saint-Laurent.
There are also other factors that killed our holiday spirit. The first being that working parents, especially those not in the professional field, have fewer vacation days than most. This makes it hard to travel as a family—especially if raised by a single parent. My mother works at a factory and is only allowed two weeks of paid vacation every year, which is nothing when you consider travelling expenses.
Another factor to consider is the millennial culture of balancing work and school which makes us drained by the time the holidays approach. Therefore, holidays are merely seen as work days with only a few days off, since most employers will want you to work during the holidays. I view it as resting days from school, work and even a break from the social life that I swear I will catch up on once I get the time. These factors put a strain on getting the family together and being festive during the holidays.
That being said, various strategies have helped to bring my family together despite the struggles and the lack of holiday spirit. A tradition that we have maintained is sticking to the true meaning of Christmas, and that is spending Christmas day at church. Thankfully, various churches in Montreal offer different activities on that day for those who attend, such as carol nights, potlucks and plays. I believe one of the advantages of sticking to the traditional meaning behind Christmas is that it takes the stress of buying gifts away, which has only amplified consumer culture. But of course, when you do get a gift, it is appreciated and unexpected.
Another strategy that we started is a tradition of binge-watching a Netflix show during the holidays in new pyjamas. During this, phones are not allowed, and a penalty is usually set for whoever breaks this rule; this keeps everyone at bay. Ultimately, every member of the family is allowed their personal space to do whatever they want after the New Year. Despite the age gap among my siblings and I, we truly enjoy the holidays now due to the effort that we have invested into it as a family. After all, the holidays are what you make of them and what better way to celebrate them than as a family?
Graphic by Ana Bilokin