“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” We sat on folding chairs arranged on the periphery of the triple gym. People passed by us and offered their hands and greetings. It is Christmas day and we were at the community feast on the Inuit side.
The gym was garlanded with lights and streamers. A stage was set up, filled with prizes. “There will be a draw,” a woman at the door said as she handed Andy a ticket for a ‘man prize’ and one to me, for a ‘woman prize’. I noted a yellow ski-doo in the gym. What a prize for the lucky winner!
Little girls twirled on the gym floor in lacy dresses and shiny shoes. Little boys in vests and shirts chased each other. Older kids in jeans, stood in clusters talking and laughing. Mothers with babies tucked into their amautis chatted with elders.
“I’ve never heard a baby cry here,” I mused to Andy as I watched the young mother beside me arrange her baby in a square cloth on her back. This is the way babies are carried inside. Outside, they are tucked into the hood of a traditional parka. There is always a woman nearby to help.
At the centre of the gym, black plastic garbage bags were taped to the floor. Large chunks of raw deep burgundy caribou, seal meat, and white feathered ptarmigans lay in huge piles. A couple of large coolers held shrimp. At an announcement, people stood up and headed to the centre to pick up a section of meat. Some ate right there, sitting on the floor; others brought meat back to their families sitting at the edge of the gym. The mother beside me chewed the meat for her baby, as a young man cut raw slivers for her with a large knife.
At the other side of the gym, tables were laden with at least 12 oversized turkeys, pots of caribou stew, and a couple of cardboard boxes, lined with plastic, filled with macaroni salad. There were no utensils, just a box of surgical gloves. You just put one on and dig in! It was wonderful to be with children and families on this Christmas day, and to feel welcome.
Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Hanukah, Blessings at Solstice, Joyeux Noel and Frohliches Weihnachtesfest to all those so far away.