Jebson's Christmases have always been musical
BY DENNY SCOTT
Blyth and Brussels United Churches brought on Alex Jebson earlier this year as a student minister and he and his husband Jean-Luc are bringing their Christmas traditions to their new home in Brussels.
Jebson said that growing up in Sunderland, a small rural community near Toronto, his Christmases growing up were likely familiar to those in northern Huron County.
“Christmas here is probably similar to Christmas where I grew up,” he said. “The cows still needed to be milked and chores needed to be done.”
He said growing up on a farm meant Christmas wasn’t too different from any other day, though as the youngest, he was sometimes allowed to sleep in.
Christmas Eve for his family saw everyone go to the church, take in the Nativity and listen to the story of Christmas. After that, he would head back to his grandparents’ house for a party.
“Christmas Eve there was pretty hopping,” he said, laughing and adding it would make the Christmas Day chores all the harder.”
He said there was nothing set in stone about the evening, but the party gave people a chance to connect and celebrate the holiday.
“For the grandchildren, the tradition was to help set up for the party,” he said. “It would be a day-long affair, with the only tradition being griping over who got what chores.”
Jebson explained that Christmas for him growing up was tied to the church or the farm, and that many of his traditions were about participating in a wider community Christmas celebration.
When he pursued his postsecondary education, Jebson was in Peterborough for his undergrad and Toronto after that. He said that, in Peterborough, he was normally able to get back to his family farm frequently, but during his time in Toronto, it wasn’t always an option.
“I tried to stay connected as much to community and traditions,” he said. “But being further away, and having new friends and new groups and trying to expand your horizons gets involved in other people’s traditions.”
Jebson said he would host a Christmas or New Year’s celebration while at school for all the students who couldn’t get home for Christmas, or were stuck on campus for the rest of the holidays.
“The other big thing for me, during school, was being part of as many choirs as possible,” he said. “The tradition was that, on Sundays, I’d run from church to church, having to keep track of which church I was singing in and what songs we were doing.”
As for this year, Jebson said Christmas will be a bit different as there won’t be a big group gathering for him and Jean-Luc to look forward to. It’s also the first year they will have their own space to decorate.
“In Toronto, in an apartment, we didn’t want to clutter too much with decorations and didn’t have a ton of space for other people,” he said. “We’re having fun trying to navigate [amalgamating our two Christmases] and sometimes compromise on where things go.”
The two have very different Christmas experiences, Jebson said.
“Jean-Luc doesn’t come from a really big family like my farm family, which would include cousins and aunts and uncles and a full farm house,” he said. “His early experiences with me and my family might have been overwhelming with the number of people there.”
He said this “quiet” Christmas will be more like those Jean-Luc is used to, as the two try to figure out how to connect with family and friends. It’s also going to give Jebson a chance to celebrate a “simpler, quieter” holiday season. He also said that, given the pandemic and the upcoming holidays, there has been a significant amount of baking done in his house.
“I didn’t think my house would smell like cinnamon as often as it has, but here we are,” he said.
Jebson said that, while he is looking forward to celebrating with Jean-Luc, a lot of his focus this year will be on working towards the traditions of his new home communities and congregations.
“So many people are having to think outside the box this year,” he said. “We’re trying to foster a sense of community with what they love most of Christmas, while still being safe and trying to keep the community safe.”
Jebson said that, since the churches have been forgoing in-person services until COVID-19 cases go down, so to mark Christmas Eve, there will be some kind of online meeting for the churches, possibly through Zoom.
“It will be a new experience for quite a few of our congregants,” he said. “A lot of the Christmas prep for our Christmas celebrations is going to figure out how we can safely celebrate. We still need to sing ‘Silent Night’, light the candles and recognize the other traditions. We need to know how to uphold those traditions.
“The church will also be doing some outdoor things as well,” he said, like the live Nativity scene the church hosted as part of the Brussels Christmas Experience earlier this month. “We want to provide ways for people to see each other in a safe environment. We want to use those little events and offerings to the community and bolster those that might be disconnected or struggling with how Christmas will be.”