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Stories/Op-Ed

Christmas Around the NLL

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

As the song says, “There’ll be parties for hosting/Marshmallows for toasting/And caroling out in the snow/There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases/Long, long ago…”

Well, there are no ghost stories here, just wonderful memories of what the holiday season means to some players in the National Lacrosse League.

We spoke with Robert Hope of the Colorado Mammoth, Jake Fox of the New York Riptide and Scott Campbell of the Halifax Thunderbirds, who all shared their Christmas traditions with us.

Not surprisingly, they all agreed that spending time with family was the most important part of their celebrations. Family is the reason they can play lacrosse in the first place. It was family who introduced them to the sport; it’s family who supports them now while they chase their dreams.

And isn’t that true for most of us, if we’re lucky?

The importance of family remains true no matter what stage of life they’re in. Fox, still a youngster at 25, spends Christmas with his younger brother Hayden, parents and grandparents. Hope and his wife Erin are spending their first Christmas as a married couple with a baby on the way. Campbell and his wife Carolyn have two daughters that make the holiday extra special; Grace is nine and Miller is seven.

————————————————————————-

Fox, especially, is looking forward to this Christmas, since he was away from his family last year due to the pandemic.

“It sucked,” he said frankly. “You know what’s going on and you’re not there for those annual traditions. It was hard.”

He was living and working in the U.S. then, but is back home in Ottawa now with his parents for a while.

“Last year with Covid was the first time I haven’t been with anybody. We did a FaceTime but it was different and weird, and I’m so glad I get to be here this year and not miss another one. My brother and I both left home at a young age to play lacrosse. Since I was 15, Christmas has been the one time of year I knew I would get to see everybody together.”

Christmas is a two-day event for the Fox family, spent at his grandparent’s house. When he was a kid, the family would open all their presents to each other on the 24th, and save Christmas Day for Santa presents.

“Now as an adult we give each other scratch tickets on the 25th,” he smiled. “We’ve never won anything major but some people have gotten their money’s worth at least!”

Fox said that as a youngster, with his brother, Christmas sometimes got repetitive.

“We’d each get our bigger presents that we’d asked for and then, the smaller the gift, it was like ‘open these two at the same time!’ There must have been a lot of two for one sales,” he deadpanned. “We’d have little fights over who got to open their presents first, or we’d try to figure out if one of us accidentally got more money than other. Sometimes we’d hide each other’s presents.”

Revealing their locations never took long “because someone would get upset and you’d just get yelled at.”

————————————————————————-

For the Hope family, Christmas is a three-day affair, starting with a family dinner on the 24th. Hope’s father Bill passed three years ago, so they always have Christmas breakfast with his mom, Paula. She and Erin then spend the morning and afternoon baking pies before heading to Erin’s parents’ house for dinner.

Boxing Day (December 26th) is reserved for their friends, in which many members of the quite large Peterborough lacrosse community get together at Hope’s place for an annual hockey game and viewing of the opening games of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

“I think how you feel about Christmas evolves over time,” Hope said. “As a kid, it was about the gifts, Santa and time off from school. Now it’s about friends and family and getting back in touch with people and reconnecting to share special memories.”

Hope said that his favourite Christmas is always the next one. And that rings especially true this year: Christmas 2022 will be his first as a father.

“There’s lots to cherish as my family grows.”

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Pre-Covid, Carolyn Campbell would host a Christmas baking group with her friends. Then she and Scott would serve the cookies at a Christmas drop-in party at their place in Markham. They’d open up their house for 12 hours and friends and family would come by to celebrate with them.

“Even our parents friends would come,” Campbell said. “We’d get 50-70 people throughout the day.”

While missing some traditions, most remain, including the annual visit by Jingles, the family’s Elf on the Shelf. While Jingles keeps an eye on the kids and reports back to Santa throughout December, she is also a great friend to Grace and Miller and this year even participated in the girls’ school spirit week. She wore her pyjamas, backwards shirt and mismatched socks right along with the kids.

Of course, the little scamp makes life more difficult for the Scott and Carolyn, like when she bakes cookies at night and messes up the kitchen, or spills a box of cereal to spell out Merry Christmas. She’s even been known to squat at Barbie’s house and take over her bathroom. The luxurious spa bath is just her size. There might be a sigh of relief or two when she goes back to the North Pole on December 24th.

The family’s Christmas celebration location rotates around each year. Everyone gathers at Scott’s parent’s house for Christmas morning and then they switch back and forth between sets of grandparents for dinner.

“The kids will wake us up at some ungodly hour,” he chuckled. “We have brunch, then open presents. Then a big family nap before dinner. I love that feeling of being surrounded by your family and full beyond belief, but satisfied and happy.”

He said that not much has changed from his own childhood. He also woke his parents up at an ungodly hour on Christmas morning, tear through their presents, and spend the day with family.

“That tradition has been passed down,” he said.

————————————————————————-

A big part of the holiday season includes winter activities for all three sport-loving families.

Fox and his brother would have snowball fights.

“Whoever was the first one to cry to mom was the loser,” he said. “There was a decent sized hill behind our grandparents house so we’d take sleds and toboggans, whatever we could get our hands on, and we’d do that for hours on end.”

They’d also play pond hockey until the sun went down.

Campbell enjoys taking his daughters tobogganing, an activity made infinitely more fun with children. The family has also recently gotten into skiing.

Hope and his older brother Will would build snowmen and forts during the first snowfall, then pretend to be wrestlers and jump off a ladder onto people in snowbanks. He and Erin now love taking their four-year-old sheepadoodle Gus for a walk.

Gus loves everything about the season, especially the snow.

“He goes outside and frolics,” Hope described. “He’ll get snow stuck in his fur, but he likes the cold. His thick coat keeps him warm.”

The Campbells also have a dog, a golden retriever named Indy, who gets spoiled at Christmas.

“Of course Indy gets presents,” Campbell said. “Santa will visit anybody who believes. She even gets her own stocking!”

The Hope’s take Gus to the pet store to let him pick out his own treat and then they’ll wrap it up for Christmas Day.

“He knows which one is his,” Hope said. “He rips the paper off himself, as much as he can with no thumbs, anyway.”

Fox’s family has always had dogs, but they weren’t usually included in most of the festivities. Right now they have two German Shepherds named Ava and Ari.

“Maybe if they’re lucky they’ll get a toy,” he laughed.

————————————————————————-

Of course, families related by blood aren’t the only families that celebrate Christmas.

Both the Thunderbirds and Mammoth have a team Secret Santa, where the players give each other goofy gifts.

Campbell also looks forward to an annual dinner at owner/general manager Curt Styres’ house in Oshweken.

“Curt’s big on family and friends and our team is family,” he said.

Fox said the Riptide don’t have any team traditions yet – the team is only in its second season in the NLL and still growing.

From everyone at the NLL, whatever you celebrate, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday!

CHRISTMAS QUIZ

What is your favourite Christmas cookie?

Hope: Sugar cookies.

Fox: Pillsbury’s sugar cookies, with the snowmen and trees on them. I could eat a whole package of them.

Campbell: Gotta be gingerbread. Not that I eat any, because we’re midseason. I just look.

What does your family leave out for Santa (or did, when you were a kid)?

Hope: Just cookies and milk.

Fox: Cookies, milk and carrots. I didn’t want to eat the carrots so I figured I’d give them to the reindeer.

Campbell: Cookies that my wife bakes, and then milk and eggnog, so Santa can choose. He’s probably a little sick of milk.

Turkey or ham for Christmas dinner?

Hope: Both, with all the fixin’s, like turnip and brussels sprouts.

Fox: Ham, mashed potatoes and the rest of the fixin’s, similar to Thanksgiving. On the 24th we do an appetizer spread. All the fried foods.

Campbell: Turkey, with Grandma’s stuffing. It has oats in it! Nobody else can make it like she does. We’ve tried. We’ve added food as the family has grown, like prime rib or brisket. There’s so much food.

Favourite present you’ve ever gotten?

Hope: A dirt bike helmet, and also I remember getting my first Walkman.

Fox: Anything lacrosse or sports related. There was so much excitement as a kid; now you get excited about new socks.

Campbell: Honestly, seeing how amped up my kids get on Christmas morning.

NLL