Christmas has always been a big deal at the Liewicki house.
As a young kid living in Winnipeg, I remember riding in the back seat of the family car to grandma and grandpa Liewicki’s house to celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alongside aunts, uncles and cousins.
I remember grandma’s kitchen table and surrounding counter covered with plates of food for all of us to eat. I can still remember standing on my toes to smell the blueberry perogies grandma set out especially for us grandkids on Christmas Eve.
All the food had to be eaten in the kitchen. Grandma would not let any of us take even a slice of grapefruit into the living room.
Then again that rule was a 365-day rule — 366 days if you count leap years.
Come Christmas Day there was another rule everyone had to abide by: no presents were to be opened until everyone had eaten breakfast.
Although I don’t have a lot of memories of specific presents I received as a young boy, I remember the table hockey game my grandparents bought for me one year.
The best part about it was you could buy players from every NHL team.
After moving to Edmonton at age seven, those annual Christmas gatherings at grandma and grandpa’s house diminished. My parents and I returned to Winnipeg for Christmas just once over the next three years.
My grandfather died in January 1999 — one month before my lone sibling was born — and we went back to Winnipeg for Christmas the following December.
I was only 11 years old then, but that was the last time we spent Christmas in Winnipeg.
The next 13 Christmases were spent in Edmonton — just the four us, and an occasional family member, or friend.
Like Christmas at my grandparents’ house, my parents also had a rule on Christmas Day that all food had to be eaten before any presents were opened, including stockings.
However, they did not restrict the eating of breakfast — notably my mom’s annually amazing cinnamon bun creation — from being eaten in the living room while a Christmas movie, or music played in the background.
My dad would also read the Christmas story and we would each choose a Christmas carol to sing together.
Like my younger years, I don’t remember a lot of the Christmas gifts I received from my parents. However, the one gift I do remember was a lump of coal in my stocking.
Yes, my parents actually gave me coal for Christmas. Despite being on the receiving end of the worst Christmas gift in history, I laughed, cried and tore into the other presents that were mine.
This year I also tore into Christmas presents on Christmas Day, albeit at a much slower pace. I also spent Christmas by myself for the first time.
Of course, it wasn’t by choice. Somebody had to work the holiday shift for the Times-Herald, and as the newest edition to the editorial staff I drew shortest candy cane-coloured straw.
As much as I missed spending time with my family and being part of the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day traditions I grew up with, I am grateful that they’re only a text message or a phone call away.
Hopefully next year I will have the chance to return to Edmonton and spend Christmas with the most important people in my life — my family.
Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks