Youth, elders share the joy of Christmas
A time for the generations
Anyone peering through the windows of Iqaluit’s elders’ centre last Thursday afternoon would have been pleasantly shocked.
About 30 elders stand in the middle of the room, each with a balloon tied to his or her ankle. All of a sudden, the gentle group of men and women start manipulating their feet to stomp on others’ balloons.
As each balloon bursts with a bang, the person whose ankle it’s tied to sits down in one of the chairs arranged in a circle around the centre of the room.
The elders are playing a game as part of a Christmas party organized by Inuksuk High School teacher Nick Newbery and his class of Grade 9 students in the Terry Fox Program.
Today, 10 students came to the centre to decorate in the morning, and the space, accented with the sound of Christmas carols, feels decidedly festive.
A Christmas tree stands in front of the window overlooking the bay, streamers hang from the ceiling, and bunches of balloons are strategically attached to the beams of the roof.
Near the entrance a table is covered with sweet treats — cookies and cakes waiting to be eaten, while another table is covered with wrapped gifts.
Newbery explains the Terry Fox Program students visit with the elders at the centre five times a year, and once for a Christmas bash.
“Each elder will go home with something,” Newbery says, be it a prize won in one of the games, a raffle, or one of the coffee mugs he as brought for all. “We try to make the prizes practical.”
The money for the gifts comes from the Terry Fox Program. Newbery manages to raise $30,000 each year to run specific activities with the students, including caribou hunting, building snow houses and even a trip to Kimmirut.
Only two elders remain standing now with balloons trailing their ankles. The man and woman hold each other by the arms and, while smiling, still try and pop the other’s balloon.
Finally the man concedes and both competitors are given a round of applause. Newbery says if they agree to shake hands they can both receive a prize. As the students scurry around cleaning the floor of balloon remnants, the couple shakes hands and sits down.
The next game on the agenda requires three male and female students, and the same number of elders. The elders are given a roll of toilet paper and set about wrapping their student partners in it from head to toe.
One male student slowly spins while Celestin Erkidjuk wraps the toilet paper around him. As the first to cover his student and use the entire roll of toilet paper, Erkidjuk wins a prize.
Fourteen-year-old Joanasie Naglingniq, who was wrapped standing in front of his grandparents, says having a celebration with the elders is fun, even if it means being covered in toilet paper.
“It was hot inside,” he says, smiling. “But I could breathe through.”
Naglingniq doles out some of the gifts to the games’ winners and kneels patiently in front of him or her as they tear off the brightly coloured Christmas paper. The gifts range from sets of pots and dishes, to socks, cribbage boards, and a bedspread.
Kootookoolou Sikkinerk, 14, takes a break from distributing pieces of Black Forest cake and says she helped decorate the centre, using ladders to reach the highest spots. The decorating was the best part of the day, she says, but admits that it makes her feel good to see the elders playing games, opening presents and enjoying themselves.
“My teacher wants us to respect elders,” she says, explaining why she thinks it’s important that students her age spend time at the centre.
This is the last year Newbery will be heading the Terry Fox Program, and the elders present him with gifts of his own.
“I have a lot of respect for your culture,” Newbery says to the group. “And I respect that you are maybe the last ones who have really lived on the land and I’ve tried to share that with my students over the years.”
As the weather shifts outside and a blizzard begins to brew, Newbery watches his students go around the circle of beaming elders wishing each a happy Christmas.