CHRISTMAS 21 - Family lessons, giving important to Goetz at holidays
BY DENNY SCOTT
North Woods Elementary School Principal Cathy Goetz is looking forward to Christmas this year with her grandchildren.
The long-time principal, who also served at Hullett Central Public School, said that this year’s Christmas will feature one-year-old Delaney, daughter of her son Curtis and fiancée Michelle, and her first grandson, born to her son Kane and Jessica.
“It’s going to be a very exciting Christmas season,” she said in an interview with The Citizen.
While Delaney was born before Christmas last year, Goetz said that, as a newborn, she wasn’t as active as she will be this year.
While COVID-19 and the growth of her and her partner Brian’s families have led to some different scheduling decisions being made, Christmas for the couple is and has always been about family.
“We don’t have too much cemented down yet because everyone has extended families to fit in,” she told The Citizen earlier this month. “Christmas Day we normally spend with the White family, Brian’s mother and siblings and as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren as possible.”
The event, however, is a pop-in, or come-and-go kind of day, she said, because if everyone was there at once there could be as many as 70 people in attendance.
Goetz’s family will be getting together on the Tuesday after Christmas, including her brother and two sisters and their families.
“We get together at my brother’s and carry on our Dow [Goetz’s maiden name] family traditions,” she said. “The values our parents taught us really ring true there, playing games and doing small stocking exchanges to show love.”
She said that all the Christmas events she goes through in the holiday season show the value that both she and Brian have been taught and passed on to each other, including family and helping each other, pointing to the gift exchange with her family as an example.
“The gift isn’t so much about the object, but about the story and the thought that goes behind it,” she said.
Traditions are important, she said, pointing to her own family tradition of pickling that she has kept alive.
“I pickle like crazy all summer and fall and my nieces and nephews are thrilled to get pickled beets, chili, dill pickles and homemade jams,” she said. “It’s fun to see the little ones so excited, hiding each other’s jars and looking forward to opening them.”
She also pointed to some important gifts that are received, like the table-runners her nieces made one year after they had learned how to sew from their grandparents.
“They were beautiful, but it was the fact that they made them that created that link,” she said.
There are store-bought items exchanged, she said, but there’s always a thought and a story behind it, pointing to one year when cleaning supplies made an appearance in the gift exchange after her nephews had been creative with markers all over the walls the year before.
“Seeing those in the stockings, we all immediately knew what to do with it,” she said. “It put us all in a good mood.”
Goetz also enjoys cooking throughout the year, and that’s apparent come Christmas.
“I can plan on cooking at least one turkey dinner, if not two, and helping out wherever,” she said.
Whether she’s cooking the meal, or helping out by taking on one of the more labour-intensive dishes like the turkey, she said it’s something she remembers fondly.
“Cooking a turkey is easy-peasy in my books, and a way to help out,” she said.
For her Dow family Christmas, she always makes her mom’s homemade Christmas pudding, a job she takes seriously.
She also loves teaching others how to cook and bake for the holiday season, passing on knowledge on how to make a dish like her mother’s homemade chocolates that she makes every year.
“Two years ago, I shared the recipe and did a baking lesson with my sister and two of my cousins who wanted to learn how to make their Aunt Gloria’s famous homemade chocolates,” she said. “It was a fun afternoon.”
While the recipe isn’t elaborate, the afternoon was filled with laughter, tears and honouring Goetz’s mother.
“They thought it was some elaborate recipe until they saw how easy it was,” she said. “My mom was a nurse, and she worked hard, and would come home at midnight on Christmas and start heating up the chocolate to get it ready for Christmas the next day.”
She said it was an important hallmark of the season for her cousins, nieces and nephews.
That was an important lesson, she said. Her mother, tired from working all day, would put others first before she could get to bed. Her father did the same, she said, but applied it to farming, always making sure the chores were done first.
“The animals’ Christmas came before ours,” she said. “We always think of others first. I’m very thankful for those lessons. The world needs more of that.”
Goetz also gets to celebrate with a large family as a principal, and, despite COVID-19, her students and staff at North Woods Elementary School were able to celebrate this year.
“The last week of school we had a special spirit day every day,” she said. “There were days focused on Christmas hats and accessories, green and red days, and that kind of thing.”
She said the school also practices a land acknowledgement, which was emphasized during the weeks leading up to holidays.
“We tried to tie it in with some of the Christmas traditions and activities of various cultures,” she said. “We talked about the winter solstice, which is something my family has celebrated for a long time. We have a campfire that night, and put out cranberries, apple and orange rings and popcorns for the birds. We appreciate being outside in nature.”
The school also celebrated some practices from other countries, including staff teaching about and demonstrating Dutch holiday celebrations.
Students also helped to bring in food for the CKNX Relief Truck food drive this year, hitting a new record with two pick-up trucks full of items.
North Woods Elementary School also has a long-standing tradition of a Christmas meal for the entire school. Normally, students would have a full holiday meal in the gymnasium of the school, however, this year, due to COVID-19, students stayed in their class and had a spaghetti lunch.
“The kids seemed to be very excited and the parents are giving good feedback,” she said. “We were still able to eat something special and be together, in a distanced way.”
She said the student body and staff are also aware that Christmas isn’t always a happy time for everyone.
“We really try to make sure we’re checking in with everybody - students and adults - and learning to be more aware of how others are feeling,” she said. “We’re all trying to be a little more empathetic.”
When it comes down to it, whether it’s at the school or with her family, Goetz says the goal of Christmas is balancing the natural excitement of the holiday with the engrained value of her parents. “Christmas is about giving, but not just the gifts,” she said. “It’s about giving time, self, help, support, an ear to listen or love to someone who needs something, whatever form it may take.”