Christmas in Dawson

Christmas is a time of gatherings with family and friends.  But what if you find yourself alone at that time of year?

Well, if you’re in Dawson City, you have nothing to worry about. The community will make sure that everyone has somewhere to go.

Dan Dowhal has first-hand experience with the Christmas spirit of Dawson City.  The Toronto native first arrived on December 23, 2011 as a writer in residence.

He says he landed at the airport at 3 p.m. and only had time to drop off his bags before being whisked away to a holiday party.

“I’ve been alone before for Christmas by my choice, but in Dawson people were worried about me being alone. I had no choice,” he says with a smile.

From December 24 to the day after New Year, Dowhal had invitations to dinners and parties all over town.

“Locals were fighting over me to make me feel welcome.”

As a lifelong city boy, the generosity and openness of the community blew him away.

“I’d never encountered this before,” he says. “It gave me a first impression of this being a very special place and was part of the reason I ended up moving here.”

Heidi Bliedung, general manager of the Westminster Hotel, agrees that no one should be alone during the holidays. She helps organize a dinner at the hotel pub on Christmas day.  She says it all started with a previous owner almost 20 years ago.

“It was originally for people who were living in the hotel long-term,” she says.

“Being in Dawson might mean being away from family and alone around the holidays. This was kind of their house and (the previous owner) wanted to have something for people to go to.”

The tradition still continues, with a local business owner supplying the turkey, and the Westminster buying the rest. Volunteers cook it all up, the staff decorates the pub with a tree and ornaments, and starting at 1 p.m. on Christmas day, everyone is welcome to partake in the holiday cheer.

Bliedung says sometimes up to 50 people show up – but she is quick to say that it’s not a soup kitchen or charity event.

“We just want to make sure everyone has a Christmas.  It’s a place to go, to spread the Christmas cheer and it’s a nice tradition.  We become a family.  It’s our gift to everyone.”

Kath Selkirk and Jim Taggart started their traditional Waifs and Strays dinner years ago when they found themselves living and volunteering in various northern communities such as Tuktoyaktuk, Rankin Inlet and Inuvik.

They say they came up with the idea while living with other volunteers who were also away from home and new to the community.

“They needed a family for Christmas day, so we decided to create and be our own family,” she says.

After they moved to Dawson they continued the tradition.  

“We like having a crowd around for Christmas,“ she says.

Although Selkirk and Taggart are vegetarians, there’s always someone who brings a turkey, she says, of the pot-luck style dinner. Selkirk usually makes a nut loaf and Taggart contributes a traditional Scottish flaming Christmas pudding with a lashing of brandy butter in honour of his roots.

After dinner, there is a gift exchange. Everyone is encouraged to bring either a homemade gift or a re-gift.

Selkirk points out that there is usually a mix of old friends and those that are new to town. It’s all word of mouth and everyone is welcome.

“It’s a good homey family Christmas with a self-made family,” concludes Selkirk.

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