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December 20, 2010

“Prairie Christmas” fromToronto Star. Sunday, December 19, 2010.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 11:24 pm

Christmas in rural Saskatchewan. Here in Lucky Lake (pop. 275) our tiny village is dressed for the holidays in crisp new snow. Frost on trees glitters like twinkle lights in the clear prairie sunshine. It’s a Hallmark-greeting-card perfect vision in white. But I, I must admit, am feeling a little  blue.

A few months ago, I moved from downtown Toronto to serve as a United Church of Canada minister. Being clergy of any kind isn’t easy. When I worked in retail, my job description was clear. Sell stuff. If I managed to do this without anyone yelling at me, I exceeded expectations. As a writer, the bar of success was set at “write something.” This was also clear. Though not always achievable. But as a minister, job success is now defined as “do good things.’ Some days I’m not sure what that is.

The fact is, I now live with the most self-sufficient people in the world. By the time I visit someone sick, they’ve already entertained twelve relatives, sixteen neighbours and every one of them has brought soup.

And, I learned quickly that my world is not their world. For one of my first church services I hit on the bright idea of demonstrating the interconnectedness of humankind by bringing in a world map and a variety of foods from different places. I would have the children show on the map where each food comes from. I confidently held up the first item. “Where does cheese come from?” Jesse, aged eight, raised his hand, Saskatchewan.

Me: Well… or Holland.

Jesse: It comes from Saskatchewan.

Me: Some cheese comes from Holland.

Jesse: My grandma makes cheese. She comes from Moose Jaw.

We then went through rice cakes (northern Saskatchewan), salami (the Pajunen family farm), perogie (Audrey Weir’s house) and sauerkraut (every single woman living within a forty mile radius).

By the time we were done, I had managed to demonstrate that all food comes from rural Saskatchewan… and that ministers from big cities know nothing.

All this means that I often wonder what I have to offer people here. Which is too bad, because in a short space of time I’ve come to love and admire these folk immensely. What can I give them that counts as a “good thing”.

Then, I hit on a perfect plan. A Christmas Eve service in a local barn.

Mary and Joseph would arrive at the farmhouse, Mary astride an actual donkey. The homeowner, following the Bible story, would play the innkeeper, pronouncing that there was no room for them inside and sending them to the barn for shelter. It would be magical. Bethlehem meets rural Saskatchewan. It would show people here their world in an entirely different way. The only problem was, once again I didn’t realize where I was.

I arrived at the home of Barb Moebis, who had kindly lent her farm for the event, and proceeded to rehearse Barb on her role as “innkeeper.”

Me: So, Mary and Joesph arrive at your door. You know what to do.

Barb: I invite them in.

Me: No, you send them to the barn.

Barb: But I invite them into the house first, right?

Me: You don’t invite them in.

Barb: Likely they’ll want some dinner. Or a warm coat.

Me: No dinner. No coat. And no telling them you think you know their cousins in Regina either.

Barb: So, just give them a little snack then.

Me: No snack. There’s no snacking in the Bible. There’s manna, but that’s a whole different thing.

We finally compromised. Mary and Joseph will ask for room at the inn. Barb will send them away in a stern voice. But first, she’ll tuck a packet of homemade biscuits and a thermos of coffee into Mary’s lap.

As I left the farm, I have to admit I felt a certain defeat. These are wonderful, warm people for whom doing good thingscomes as easily as breathing. Or knowing when it’s OK to drive your snowmobile up Main Street. What could I possibly have to offer?

I stopped at the post office for mail and news. A clutch of older men were standing around planning the success of their beloved Rough Riders in 2011. One man stopped me, “I heard you’re doing some kind of thing in a barn,” he said. I nodded half-heartedly. “Well, that’ll be interesting,the man mused. It’s been a long while since I was in a barn and didn’t have to do chores.”

It wasn’t much. But it was something. And when Christmas Eve comes and I stand outside Barb’s house crossing my fingers that she doesn’t insist Mary, Joseph and the entire watching audience come in for “a little something” I will cling to the fact that I gave people a chance to… well, maybe to see their own world in a slightly different way. Which of course is what they give me every moment.


  1. Anne — such a wonderful story! You have indeed captured some essences of living in Saskatchewan — sharing, caring and really great folks!
    Gord (another ex Torontonian)

    Comment by Gord Hines — December 21, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

  2. Ahem,

    Knowing Anne as I do, I can just imagine the whimsical look on her face as she attempted to convince Barb of the correct scripting, for I have seen that look on Anne’s face many times when she was a temporary, interning, trainee minister (is that a sufficient description, I wonder?) at the church I attended, and I would attempt to convince Anne of some truth, as I perceived it, about something or other.

    Actually, come to think of it, I saw that same quasi-perplexed look on the face of a supervisor in a volunteer position I once filled, when, after she attempted to explain to me several times what it was she wanted me to do when I carried out her wishes and reorganized her filing system (which was totally disorganized I might add, and, which, being a perfectionist, I sought to remedy in short order, only to meet up with her longer term plans), she finally threw up her hands, said she gave up, and for me to do what I wanted to do, and then she walked away! Ah yes, words that are a balm unto my soul. Course, as it turned out, I found more than she had expected, and it all worked out beautifully, so she was eventually ecstatic, as I suspect Anne will be on Christmas Day!

    Honestly, the rolling eyes and plaintive sighs were an awesome sight to behold. I truly envy you people in Lucky Lake, for you have a real gem in your midst! I only wish I could be there to watch the whole event.

    I suppose this all begs the question though, as to why Anne did not volunteer to ride the donkey. It is a small, tidy animal, relatively speaking, and after all the practice she gained at navigating a smart car through the streets of Toronto, I rather would have thought that Anne would be not only highly qualified but also able as well, to pilot one cute little donkey, through the streets of Lucky Lake, SK. Sigh…I guess one will just have to learn to do without satisfaction in certain aspects of life.

    Just to move partially sideways here, we too, at Anne`s old church, have a nativity scene this year. The current intern`s husband built the stable and large cutouts of animals, and a certain artistic person from the little house next door painted the animals. Ahhh, Anne askes with baited breath, but you said there was a donkey. Well, knowing Anne to be a person not only possessed of infinite wisdom but also of exemplary patience, I thought I`d wait until now to mention it. And here it comes (clop, clop, clop…) – It seems that somebody in the neighbourhood either out of good neighbourliness or sheer deviltry – not sure which – contributed a stuffed donkey from Shrek, the Movie. It sat there for a day or so before I saw it (I help out around here but had not noticed it), until the office told me it was on the loose! Yikes! See if you can attach it they said (remember their words). So, I tried, but my first attempt was rather dismal, so I tried again – this time, I inserted two wires along the top and bottom of the left side, and attached them firmly to the underside of one of the hay bale ropes, and that worked, sort of. Then they asked, how did you attach it, and I had to admit that I had had to pierce the fabric, in order to introduce an under the covering path for each wire – well, you should have heard the howls of protest, despite my having prefaced my explanation with saying that I felt really bad having to do that.

    That aside, along comes the first freeze and Mr. Donkey turns into a hardened block of partially frozen foam (who woulda thunk it), and now leans drunkenly to his right side. Well, you get the picture!

    I bet this is going to work out just fine Anne, and it will be remembered for years and years, and, it will probably become an annual event I should think! Only you (and I mean that in the most positive way) could possibly have thought of this. You are so creative and so inspiring.

    God Bless you and Merry Christmas (((HUG)))

    Comment by Roger — December 25, 2010 @ 3:05 am

  3. Dear Anne,

    PS – forgot to say this in the previous message. Er, a question actually – does this count as having teased you before noon, after all, it is before noon in each of our locales, but is that the same as teasing you before noon on a Sunday – your thoughts and ruminations on this will be greatly appreciated!

    Comment by Roger — December 25, 2010 @ 3:07 am

  4. I’m from Beechy, now living in Toronto, and wish I’d been there for the Christmas service! Thanks for your beautiful columns about my home town, Anne. I miss it every day…and you’ve captured the wonderful people there so well.

    Comment by Glenda MacFarlane — January 7, 2011 @ 7:57 pm

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