Stephanie R. is a senior software engineer for Hallmark who’s been integral to tons of behind-the-scenes IT work, and especially to the IT aspects of our Keepsake Wish List. On top of being an amazing engineer, she loves giving back by supporting Harvesters Community Food Network and mentoring kids in her community.
“Always remember the reason for the season. Make it a priority to spend time with family and friends. Build traditions that can be passed on to your children.” — Stephanie R.
Stephanie was born and raised in Jamaica, and her family members all live in different places. Still, most of them get together every Christmas—and it’s super special when everyone can make it.
“I hadn’t seen my older brother in, like, years—and he was able to join [in 2016],” Stephanie tells us. “We had a house full of people, everyone was sleeping everywhere…it was very fun.”
Stephanie’s family has celebrated Christmas her whole life, and their holiday traditions revolve around the well-loved foundation of food and togetherness. Their fun-loving spirit gives the holidays the kind of casual, intimate charm that makes for a merry time, rooted most strongly in just being around each other.
As kids, Stephanie and her siblings couldn’t buy each other gifts, but they kept good humour about it.
“We were young, so we didn’t work and didn’t have any money, and so for Christmas we would take something from the next person and wrap it and give them as gifts. It’s just the idea of, ‘Hey I’m giving you something, even though it’s yours already.’ When we look back at that we always laugh.”
Stephanie's favourite story
“My favourite [story] is about me. Back then I loved, loved, loved music, so every time we were driving home [my parents] would be playing reggae and dance-hall, and I’d always tell my dad that I wanted to stop and go dance.
“And he was like, ‘No.’ So he said I hit him in his head and said, ‘When I get to age 16, I’ll be going to dance and just enjoy myself and you won’t be able to stop me.’ At the age of 16 I couldn’t go anywhere—and that explains why.
“The stories are not always Christmas-focused, mostly because we are always around my side of the family—so that’s my dad’s time to tell our spouses that, ‘Yeah, these are the ladies that you married.’”
Stephanie and her siblings don’t re-gift each other their own personal possessions anymore, but the holidays are still about having fun together.
“Every Christmas, my sisters and my mom and I normally drive out just to look at how others decorated their homes…to see how beautifully decorated the houses are and the effort that everyone puts in. My oldest sister and my youngest sister are big on decorations,” Stephanie says. “I’m just there for moral support.”
Cooking is a family activity, too: Everyone helps in the kitchen. Stephanie’s dad is usually in charge of the baked ham and her mom makes the fried dumplings. The traditional Jamaican breakfast of ackee and saltfish is a staple every year. Not a cook? No worries—Stephanie jokes that she mostly helps by being a taster. And before they enjoy all their delicious food, Stephanie’s family says grace.
“Family prayer before eating is a must,” she says.
Stephanie’s family loves to listen to Christmas carols and reggae during the holidays. Their favourite carols are “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night”—Bob Marley takes care of the rest. (This is, of course, when Stephanie’s dad isn’t busy telling stories.)
And though they love their long-held traditions, they make new ones, too.
“For the past three years, we have started wearing festive, matching clothes—like tops and pj’s—and taking unprofessional photos, playing dominos, and ludo.”
“As a child, Christmas meant family time, eating fruit cake and baked ham and watching Bible stories,” Stephanie tells us. “As an adult, Christmas still means family time. We decorate, bake ham and potato pudding, and exchange gifts. As soon as the clock strikes 12 a.m., it’s time to open gifts. My dad hates that—he needs to get his beauty rest.”
They also still go to church nearly every Christmas Sunday, balancing their fun-loving family time with their love for Jesus.
Stephanie’s family holiday celebrations resonate with a lot of traditional ideas about Christmas, but they also have their own unique elements. Here are a few tips and ideas based on the ways they celebrate:
- Find the fun in everything. If not everyone can be there, if you can’t afford brand new gifts, if your dad’s grumpy about opening presents at midnight…the holiday isn’t ruined.
- Keep the focus on the people. Tradition for tradition’s sake adds rigidity the holiday doesn’t need. Stephanie’s family gave her dad a year off from waking up for presents at midnight, and the tradition wasn’t lost forever.
- Have fun while you’re helping out. If you’re not up for being the big decorator or head chef, take a leaf out of Stephanie’s book and have fun supporting the people who do want to play those roles.