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Christmas Traditions Around the NLL

Traditions are important, especially during holidays. Holidays are traditions themselves, and every person customizes how they celebrate to make the day special to them and their loved ones, prompting only the best memories.

Many cultures celebrate significant holidays in December, with Christmas dominating everything from people’s minds to the airwaves to retail aisles in North America. Ideally, it is a time of togetherness for families – to decorate, exchange presents, eat, play in the snow, observe religious practices and generally gather to be thankful for the past year.

We asked several players around the league about their holiday traditions, and got varied answers. Here are some of their stories.


Robert Hope, Colorado Mammoth

You don’t get to be captain of a professional sports team without displaying leadership and friendship to your teammates. Mammoth captain Robert Hope has been doing that for years in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario. Every Boxing Day (December 26th in Canada), Hope hosts a giant hockey game for his friends and then a screening of the opening games of the World Junior Hockey Championship on TSN.

“There was always a Boxing Day tournament when we were younger, around 2010 or 2011,” Hope describes. “It was run in town and it was probably 4 or 5 teams. It ended up turning into just the game we have today. Jeff Ralph (who coaches the Jr. A Lakers with Hope) started it and it turned into a nice opportunity for us to get together as guys moved away and started families. All of our significant others are invited and others will drop in who maybe don’t play in the game. It’s nice to get to see people we haven’t seen in a while and maybe only see once or twice a year.”

The game is usually held at the Evinrude Centre, a busy twin-pad in the heart of the city, but the city has decided to close the rinks on Boxing Day this year, so the game is moving out to Ennismore, a small community near Chemong Lake, where Hope and his family live now.

Expected to play this year are Holden Cattoni (PHL), Jordan Stouros (COL), Turner Evans (ROC) and former NLLer Cory Vitarelli. Bryce Sweeting may drop in for the evening World Junior game, and Jake Withers is a maybe due to his firefighting schedule.

“In Peterborough, we all grew up together (playing hockey and lacrosse) but when the winter starts its more difficult to get together and have the opportunity to chat with guys that are on different travel schedules and have different practice schedules,” Hope says. “It’s a nice opportunity to talk with guys about the start of the year with the winter being so busy for everyone, and then we get back going in the summer and we’re together multiple times a week (when they all suit up for the MSL’s Peterborough Lakers).”


Wes Berg, San Diego Seals

Berg also involves hockey in his Christmas traditions, with an annual pond hockey game in Prince George, BC. Berg plays with his dad’s side of the family, including up to 20 cousins and their kids.

(You think that’s a lot? He has over 50 first cousins on his mom’s side in Calgary!)

That’s a lot of people to see in one short holiday, but he manages and loves every second of it.

Berg’s dad’s side of the family hails from Norway, though they have been in northern Canada for quite a while, he says. His mom’s side of the family is from Denmark, and that’s where a lot of their Christmas traditions come from, too.

Each year the family hosts a Danish Christmas on New Year’s.

“It’s a big party with all the cousins; it’s similar to most traditional Christmases,” Berg describes. Occasionally the family will have turkey but more common is duck or goose. They’ll also enjoy some pork-style frikadelle. Different Danish desserts dominate the festivities, but the most popular is risalamande (rice pudding), in which an almond is hidden. Whoever finds the almond – usually a kid, Berg says – gets a prize like a Kinder Egg.

Finally, they finish off with a Grinch Christmas – no, not the movie, the gift exchange game, akin to a white elephant game where you probably won’t end up with the present you started with. You draw cards to see whether you open a present or steal someone else’s. Once you steal a gift three times, it’s yours.


Joey Cupido, Colorado Mammoth

Joey Cupido joins his Colorado Mammoth teammates on the floor

Cupido is a huge Christmas guy; he says so himself. He loves everything about the holiday, but most important to Cupido is spending time with family in such a festive atmosphere.

“As you get older you realize you start to lose touch with people and it’s an opportunity to get together with friends and family,” he says. “Togetherness is what it’s all about for me.”

Cupido shows his appreciation for his loved ones with gifts, each thoughtfully chosen for their recipient.

“As a kid I got lucky with presents, but now as an adult it’s the opposite for me,” he says. “I love giving them out and seeing people’s reactions. I put a lot of thought into them.”

To make his house as festive and welcoming as possible, Cupido makes sure he has properly decorated the place.

“We have a garland, the tree is up, and outdoor lights of course. It’s not as crazy as you some might see out there but it’s certainly very festive.”

Cupido’s pride and joy, decorations wise, is his ceramic Christmas Village that was started several years ago and now boasts over 20 pieces.

“Every year I add a little more to the collection,” he smiles. I mostly buy them myself but now that people know I have it going on I expect I’ll start getting some as gifts going forward.”

The village buildings all have that consistent Christmassy look and feel, though they’re not necessarily all from the same set or manufacturer.

“It’s whatever I can pick up here and there,” he says. “My wife has contributed some, and we’ve picked up some at thrift stores. We keep our eyes peeled looking for deals. At first my wife was against it, saying it was just too much, but now she’s on board with it because it looks really good.”

Cupido says he hasn’t made up any backstories for the villager figurines that inhabit the Christmas Village, but thinks one day his daughters might do so.

At the moment they’ve gotten bored of the Village because, at ages 2 and 4, “they don’t have the greatest attention spans.”

But the girls are looking forward to the holiday – Cupido says this is the first year they’ve really grasped what’s happening, and they can’t wait for Santa to come and leave presents. They helped decorate the tree and they open up their advent calendars each day. They have an elf from the dollar store that hangs in their room to keep an eye on them so they know that Santa is watching.

“It’s not an Elf on the Shelf,” Cupido laughs. “I’ve been told to stay away from Elf on the Shelf because they cause so many problems.”


Taite Cattoni, Philadelphia Wings

The Cattoni family, which includes Taite’s older brother and Wings’ teammate Holden, gathers over New Year’s while also getting away – on a family vacation to the Dominican Republic. The tradition started in 2018 and luckily the family was able to go even during Covid, but unfortunately, they won’t be able to go this year – the Wings are set to play Halifax on December 29. They’ll resume next year, and this year look back on the memories of the sun and sand in Puerto Plata.

“There are two beaches there,” Cattoni describes. “We’d just go to the beach and hang out together and order drinks all day.”

Though they’ll be stuck at home for New Year’s, Cattoni is looking forward to the family’s Christmas Eve tradition of ordering in Chinese food and playing games like Dutch Blitz.

“It’s very competitive,” he laughs. “I’m the king of the household. Holden wants to think he’s good but he’s not very good at it.”

On Christmas morning, after a good long sleep in, they gather around the table for homemade waffles and ice cream with strawberries and chocolate sauce, before opening presents.

Cattoni says he was pretty fired up for Christmas as a kid to see what was under the tree.

“I probably believed in Santa for way too long,” he admits, and credits his brother for playing along even though he was four years older. Sports equipment would always be under the tree for them both and they’d spend hours afterwards playing outside.

(Editor’s Note: You’re never too old to believe in Santa, or at least – the magic of the season!)


Ethan Riggs, Georgia Swarm

The Riggs family’s biggest tradition revolves around food. Every year Riggs’ aunt and uncle (on his father’s side) host a large buffet at their house for their extended family of 20+ people, including siblings and cousins. Riggs says it’s a fight for your life to get the food that you want, all made by his aunt and uncle – nobody else is allowed to bring anything.

“Though, we usually bring a pie, or something small, because we’ll get in trouble if we bring anything big,” Riggs laughs.

Riggs says the most popular dish, at least according to his taste buds, is the mashed potatoes, describing them as “just flat out amazing.”

After dinner is more chill than the frenzy of all the fanciful food – opening presents and listening to stories of the parents’ generation growing up in Toronto.

If there are leftovers from dinner – and that’s a big IF – they’re given away to those departing, whether they want them or not.

“My aunt and uncle won’t keep any leftovers for themselves so they will stuff leftovers in the car if you aren’t paying attention,” says Riggs.

Two days later, a similar process is repeated as Riggs and his parents visit his mom’s side of the family!


Team Celebrations

Philadelphia’s Mitch Armstrong poses in his Christmas sweater with a bunch of Wings fans.

Not every team gets to celebrate Christmas, with bye weeks and road games in December, but some do. The New York Riptide will have their own internal white elephant celebration, for example.

The Philadelphia Wings introduced a new team tradition – an ugly Christmas sweater game, with each player arriving to the arena in their finest ugly Christmas sweater. The initiative was organized by new team captain Blaze Riorden.

The Vancouver Warriors had a holiday-party-themed game last week, made better by their 15-7 win over Georgia.

Halifax will be hosting their first teddy bear toss on December 29th vs. Philadelphia, in conjunction with their New Year’s Eve celebration. Proceeds from the Teddy Bears will be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada.

Also on December 29th, Buffalo is hosting a Winter Wonderland game vs Georgia. The whole family is encouraged to come out to the game for fun and winter-themed activities!

The Saskatchewan Rush hold the honour of hosting the league’s only game on New Year’s Eve, and have declared it “the biggest NYE party in Sask,” including mock casino games and a halftime performance from KC Aerials.