CHRISTMAS 21 - Nonkes has fond memories of four-legged gift
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
For Sylvia Nonkes of the Auburn area, a member of the Maitland Valley Camera Club, and her husband Tony Verburg, Christmas celebrations have changed a bit over the years, resulting in a growing family foundation.
Nonkes and Verburg are both married for the second time, as their first spouses passed away, so their current family unit is blended. When children, grandchildren and, for Tony, great-grandchildren are factored in, there could be over 35 seats at the proverbial table for the holidays. They have nine children, all from their previous marriages, and now a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As a result, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sylvia and Tony had no choice but to try and host separate Christmas celebrations, one for each side of the family.
On Tony’s side, they would often head to a local restaurant for dinner, rather than trying to cook for nearly 30 people. That became a good practice, Tony said, because that would be everyone’s Christmas present as well. He did, however, keep up with the Dutch tradition of buying chocolate letters to coincide with the first initial of everyone’s name. He said that getting one for every member of the blended family resulted in an end tally of 37 letters purchased, nearly an alphabet and a half.
Before and after either of the celebrations, Sylvia and Tony have played host to visitors for a social time for those who can afford the extra time for holiday cheer with their family, which has always been a special time for the pair.
One dish that Sylvia has now been making for years over the holidays is a raspberry trifle. She jokes that it has caught on because it was one of the dishes she created over the years that “worked”, but it has been a favourite of family members for years, she said, so it’s always requested over the holidays.
Growing up, Sylvia said attending church around Christmas was always a big part of life for her family, as it still is now. The Sunday before Christmas Day was always a church day for the family and they would always attend over the course of the holidays as well.
She always has fond memories of those services, she said, when there would often be special musical performances by the Sunday school members or a local choir or even the church’s choir to make the holiday service extra special.
One Christmas will always stick out in Sylvia’s childhood, she said, when she was about eight years old and her parents surprised the kids with one final Christmas gift at the end of the night that wasn’t under the tree, but waiting out in the garage. It was a puppy that the kids named Lassie. Sylvia said she and Lassie were inseparable for years and that she was with her until she moved out on her own many years later. She said she remembers that as a really special time for her family.
When she was older and had children of her own, Sylvia said they would always open presents from the family on Christmas Eve, with some bonus gifts from Santa Claus for the children appearing on Christmas morning as well.
Tony said his childhood Christmas celebrations, growing up in the Seaforth area, were often rather sparse and whether the children got gifts or not often depended on the year. As a result, the holidays were about family and being together without a big emphasis on gift-giving.
As he got older and he and his siblings all got married and started families of their own, Tony said they would still get together around the holidays for one day to share that time together and reconnect with the family unit.
He said the family would always attend church on Christmas morning and then get together afterwards for a Christmas meal. However, with just about everyone in the group being a farmer, things tended to wrap up just as the sun was going down so everyone could get home in time to do their chores for the night.