Dressed in her North Pole finest, the woman known as Crystal Bright replaces assistant principal Angela McLeish each Christmas.
It’s a “teacher exchange” between twins, she explains, working at St. Patrick’s school the month ahead of the holiday. She can’t walk a hallway without the youngest of kids greeting their shiny new administrator with exuberance and by name.
It’s a particularly busy and emotionally powerful time of year for the independent Catholic school in Victoria. They’re busy learning about mindfulness and spreading joy, and among the activities is Christmas cracker creation that started right after Halloween.
Students in the elementary school shared their trick-or-treating bounty in November – stockpiled for the December project.
“At St. Patrick’s school every year we make over 1,500 Christmas crackers that will be delivered to the homeless,” Crystal Bright says. “That’s our special way of saying we are thinking of you during Christmas.”
Each cracker contains the popper, candy and a hand-written message. The kids themselves put the packages together, wrapping the cardboard tubes in festive paper.
It’s a decades-old tradition at this point and the students learn a lot, alongside enjoying an opportunity to work alongside their buddies – Grade 7 students help their Kindergarten partners with the wrapping bit.
“They also learn that there are people in the community that do not have the luxuries of having the things that we have, and therefore develop empathy and compassion to those less fortunate than themselves,” Bright says. “When we have so much, it’s important students know to give back to the community and share a little bit of love and joy in someone else’s life.”
For the church, this time of advent is about sharing joy with friends, family and community, Bright says.
“I think that’s essential to our message here at St. Patrick’s.”
Cathy Ray agrees – her three children enjoy the opportunity.
“It’s a nice event where they can warm their hearts for Christmas. It gets them into the spirit of giving,” she said.
Once finished, the Christmas crackers are donated Our Place Society, 9-10 Club and Anawim House among others. The small packages warm hearts there too, according to Grant McKenzie, director of communications at Our Place.
The crackers will grace the tables during their special Christmas meal Dec. 21. The society has also housed about 500 people in the last three years, he notes, and the crackers tuck nicely into stockings that magically appear on doorknobs of these modest homes Christmas morning.
“For so many people that we look after, they’re missing that connection with a loved one or missing that connection with a child so these little messages can mean a lot to someone. You never really know what’s going to touch someone in a special way,” McKenzie said.
“A lot of times Christmas can be depressing for people, when they’re disassociated with family. For some people, bringing the small sense of joy can mean an awful lot.”
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