Music, church play big roles at Christmas for Citizen of the Year Annie Sparling
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Annie Sparling, this year’s Citizen of the Year Award winner for Blyth and its surrounding communities, says Christmas at her home is about faith, family and music.
Sparling was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Annie was one of seven children. Her father was a plumber in Detroit and Christmas was always a special time for the family.
Sparling says there was always plenty of music with both her and one of her sisters being vocalists. When she was really young, she always remembered visits from her Uncle Bill, who would come dressed as Santa Claus. A bigger, friendly guy, her uncle fit the look for Santa Claus.
Christmas was a very musical time for the family. Sparling related that they would often sit around the piano and sing throughout the holidays. She and her sister were also often asked to perform at local churches and halls around the holidays.
Growing up Catholic in Detroit, Sparling said the family would always attend midnight mass just as the calendar turned to Dec. 25. They would then head home and Sparling’s parents would send the kids to bed and begin wrapping presents.
Their sleep would be short-lived, because once her parents were done wrapping presents, they would wake the children up and open presents, usually around 2-3 a.m.
Sparling said that felt special for her with most of the neighbourhood still sleeping, but they were up opening presents and celebrating Christmas as early as they could.
They would then have a traditional breakfast, still before the sun came up, and then everyone would return to their beds and sleep until the late morning.
The rest of the day they would spend time with family, both from Detroit and some Canadian family that would come across the border (Sparling’s mother was Canadian).
After meeting her husband David and moving to Blyth, traditions changed, but she would always make her way to Michigan for the holidays. They would spend Christmas Eve with the Sparlings and then head to Michigan later on Christmas Day to see all of their family.
Traditions continued (and still continue) to develop as David and Annie had their three children: Reece, Sam and Sarah. Annie says it feels like something new develops every year, which has been exciting.
Things usually begin at the Sparling home just after American Thanksgiving, when they get their tree. They always get an overly tall tree to fit into their home, which has become a tradition they have kept up over the years, tapping the Londesborough Lions Club for the special tree request.
In regards to American Thanksgiving, Annie said she wanted to work to dispel a myth about Americans, or at least about her, that Thanksgiving is more important to them than Christmas. For her, she loves Christmas and feels it’s much more important than Thanksgiving.
They then work to hang their stockings and decorate the tree as the calendar inches closer to Christmas, culminating in a Christmas Eve party at their home for their closest friends, family members and neighbours.
On Christmas morning, once the children are up, Annie always prepares cinnamon buns and breakfast and then the family proceeds to open their gifts. Now, they celebrate with the rest of the Sparling family on Boxing Day when possible.
In recent years, Blyth residents have Annie and the Blyth Community Betterment Group to thank for a little extra Christmas cheer in the village due to the creation of the Hometown Holiday Weekend.
Not only has that endeavour included the resurrection of the Santa Claus parade, but there have been plenty of other events, including shows at Memorial Hall, dinners hosted by the Blyth Lions Club and, this year, a virtual talent show hosted by the Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt.
Annie said there are so many great events that are part of the Blyth calendar every year, from the Blyth Festival season to the reunion of the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association, that the group wanted to focus on its Rutabaga Festival revival every second year and something for the holiday season.
So far, she says she thinks it has been a success, spreading Christmas cheer and bringing people to the village to enjoy the season in Blyth.
And while she’s happy with what the group has accomplished in Blyth, Annie says that at home with her family, it’s all about faith around the holidays.
“Christmas is the most important holiday of the year for me, despite what Canadians say, that to Americans Thanksgiving is a bigger deal,” Annie said in an e-mail to The Citizen. “It’s very precious to me because of its focus on God’s love to us through the gift of His son. We receive that love, that is expressed to us as a gift, something that can’t be earned, and we extend that love to others. It’s my prayer that as I am loved, I am able to love others, not from my own strength, as it comes from God.”