McQuail's hunt for the perfect tree lives on every holiday
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
For Katrina McQuail, her husband Ben Hustis and their children, Christmas in the St. Helens area is all about family, experiences and relaxation where they can find it.
McQuail, Hustis, two-and-a-half-year-old Stella and one-and-a-half-year-old Imogen operate Meeting Place Organic Farm, a well-known local farm and a cog in the Eat Local Huron machine. Katrina is the daughter of Tony and Fran McQuail, who have been pioneers of the organic farming movement in Huron County for decades.
In an interview with The Citizen, Katrina said that the holidays for their family can vary greatly from year to year. With so much family in the United States, they will often alternate years, celebrating south of the border one year before returning home for the holidays the next. Not only does Katrina’s father Tony have family in Pennsylvania and her mother Fran have family in Indiana and beyond, but Ben’s family is located in Texas, so there are more than a few stops to make in the U.S. for the holidays.
This year, however, is not one of those years and the family will be staying home on the farm for some relaxation time. That process began a few weeks before Christmas, when Katrina and Ben brought their children out to the bush on the Meeting Place property for the time-honoured family tradition of cutting down their own Christmas tree.
Being at the whims of the property and the season, depending on what the family has been doing with the trees over the course of the year, have all led to some “Charlie Brown” Christmas trees over the years, Katrina says, but the tradition of going out and cutting it down themselves is one that she has always cherished.
As a kid, she remembers heading out with her parents and sister Rachel on a horse-drawn sleigh, singing carols and finding the perfect (for them) tree. Now, Katrina and Ben bundle up Stella and Imogen, pack them into a wagon and haul a chainsaw into the bush until they find their Christmas tree for the year.
This year, Katrina and Ben welcomed Rachel and her family to the farm earlier in the holiday season for an extensive holiday baking session, another tradition for that family that is thriving this Christmas.
It should be a fun one for them, as Stella and Imogen are both reaching the age when they can truly appreciate Christmas for the first time. Katrina says the children have been captivated with the magic of Christmas, fully engaged with decorating the tree, Christmas lights and the whole experience of the holiday.
As part of the Quaker community, Katrina says another long-standing tradition at the farm has been to welcome friends and neighbours to the farm on the weekend before Christmas for a small get-together that involves a reading of the Nativity story in the barn, surrounded by the farm’s animals, another magical tradition at the farm.
This year, Meeting Place also incorporated something new into its holidays, hosting one of two Eat Local Huron holiday markets at the farm.
Having Christmas on the farm, there are always chores to do. When the family makes its bi-annual trip to the U.S. for the holidays, they arrange for neighbours to do the chores at the farm for a week or so. However, when Katrina and Rachel were younger, they remember having hours with their stockings on Christmas morning, exploring some of their new gifts at their leisure as their parents tended to the farm before coming in and celebrating the holiday for the rest of the day.
Now, Katrina says that gifts aren’t the focal point of the holiday, not that they ever were, but that everyone is more focused on spending time together and gifting one another experiential gifts, rather than material presents.
Katrina says that she and Ben have been working hard to instill a sense of giving and charity in their children around the holidays. Further to the aforementioned turn away from material gifts, they have worked to emphasize the importance of community and giving back at the holidays as well.
One of the examples of this is their goal to make annual donations of meat from the farm to the Huron County Food Bank Distribution Centre and other charitable donations.
In regards to the traditional aspect of gift-giving, however, Katrina and Ben have worked to focus on giving their children a gift from four different categories: one they want, one they need, one they wear and one they read.
To combat materialism, however, gifts will often be homemade or otherwise sourced in a responsible manner.
The family has also made an annual tradition of celebrating the Winter Solstice. Over the years, they have gathered with friends and hosted a bonfire or a celebration, but, more recently, just among family with a night marked by gratitude for the inevitable “return of the light” and longer days.
Furthermore, Katrina says she and Ben have been working to educate their children on other holiday celebrations marked around the world, such as Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Ōmisoka.