There are always one or two gifts at Christmas that become family heirlooms. They are the hand-made gifts – those crafted carefully and thoughtfully for someone who is particularly loved. They are the gifts that make one ponder, ‘who am I and what is the meaning of my life?’ This year in our family, one of those special presents was a Coat of Arms that my sister Karen made for Nicholas. Karen is a Montreal-based painter. She worked with Nicholas and his helpers for months, sending them heraldry images together with their meanings. Nicholas added his own touches and finally, a mock-up emerged. Little did we know that a professional printer would then produce a 3-D textured poster board of Nick’s crest! This wonderful artwork will hang on Nicholas’ bedroom door in his residence, like a royal coat of arms on a palace drawbridge!
To understand the images in this coat of arms is to understand how Nicholas sees himself. The colour red signifies the military strength and magnanimity of a brave warrior. The jagged edged ‘raguly’ line surrounding the crest tells of difficulties encountered and fire means zealousness. Nicholas chose the English white rose because of his time living in England, but also because it signifies love and faith. Antlers denote strength and fortitude (they also give a Canadian flare). The maple leaf that contains the English cross tells Nick’s story of growing up in Canada and England, while his sports teams are evident throughout. The Ottawa Senators vintage “O” logo appears front and centre directly below a banner with the words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – the song of the Liverpool Football Club.
But it was the snail that made me laugh and tear up all at once. The snail is the heraldic symbol of deliberation and perseverance – the qualities that define Nick and make him so admirably unique in today’s world.
The other present that made family history this year was a scrapbook of favourite family recipes for Natalie. It seemed to me this year that our little girl was growing up and that perhaps she needed a bit of home as she prepares applications for graduate school and a more adult life after her first four years of college.
The book is divided into family holidays (cottage, Christmas and birthdays) as well as by people – each member of our family contributed their favourite recipe along with a memory. It all sounds a little bit precious and probably sentimental, but we had a marvellous time making this gift. And given that Natalie is studying material culture and contemporary anthropology, we knew it would appeal to her sense of imbuing objects with meanings to do with identity, history and emotion.
I guess we were all feeling that transitions are coming in Natalie’s life and that perhaps future Christmases would never quite be the same as when the children were little. Natalie felt this most keenly and on Christmas morning as we hugged, she said, “I could feel this transition coming, but the book made it OK.”
Tonight, we will all join with Joshua, an old family friend and now one of Nicholas’ full-time carers. Josh is getting married this evening and as we wish him well for his future life, we will give thanks for the love in our family and for all of our blessings in 2012.
Happy New Year, everyone!