The moon was shining on that cold, desolate Christmas Eve in 1968, with the mercury at fifty-nine degrees below zero and twenty-eight feet of snow on the ground. We could hear the sounds of plows and trucks working unceasingly to keep the roads clear. When the Indians had named their fishing village on this site centuries ago, surely it must have been on such a night, for the name Kitimat means “People of the Snow.”
Eight months earlier, my husband and I and our two preschool-aged children had left our home in South Africa and immigrated to Vancouver, Canada. When we first applied for immigration, Canada was experiencing a shortage of tradesmen. Since then, however, the economy had slumped, and the country now had a glut of new immigrants seeking employment.
Therefore, we were elated when my husband got a temporary job for the summer. As his fellow workers discussed the slim chances for finding permanent employment, they often mentioned a small northern British Columbian town where electricians were always wanted but where the working conditions were atrocious. The men claimed that Kitimat got thirty feet of snow during its nine-month winters and that the other three months of the year were filled with rain. Work was apparently available, but no one wanted to live there.
Nevertheless, with the end of his three-month employment swiftly approaching, my husband sent an application to Kitimat’s aluminum smelter. Within weeks, we were settled into an austere yet adequate apartment in the small town. Money was still scarce, but we were grateful for a steady paycheck. Because we had joined the Church in South Africa four years before, one of the first things we did in Kitimat was become involved with the local branch.
As winter set in, we discovered that everything we had heard about the weather in Kitimat was true. We managed to dispel our longings for loved ones in sunny South Africa by writing many letters, but then a Canadian postal strike severed the ties between us and the outside world. To add to my misery, I slipped on the ice and broke my wrist. Used to the freedom of South Africa’s endless summers, our two housebound children became cranky. My husband’s working conditions were as difficult as the rumors had suggested they would be.
On Christmas Eve, we sat halfheartedly watching a secondhand television that my husband had managed to purchase for my birthday some months before. The small Christmas tree in a corner of the room looked sparse and scrawny, and the few wrapped presents we had purchased for our children, Lynda and Glen, appeared out of place in this bleak setting.
A knock at the door startled us. When my husband peered out, the hallway was deserted except for a large box adorned with bright paper and ribbons. When we saw that our family name was printed on it, we eagerly pulled it into our apartment.
Inside, we found a homemade Christmas cake, hand-dipped chocolates, a baked ham, a turkey, and boxes of sugar cookies. Farther down, we found beautifully wrapped gifts not just for the kids but for my husband and me as well. Though we found no note or card, we knew this was a gesture of love from our new friends in the Church. This was their way of making us feel accepted and loved. They neither expected nor wanted thanks.
As we sat marveling at the goodness of our fellow Saints, another knock came at the door. We opened it to find Pat and Manuel Cordeiro from the branch, along with their two children, who were the same age as our two children, and a charming if slightly bewildered elderly couple. Pat hugged me tightly and explained that their grandparents had just arrived in town for Christmas. Passing our apartment, the family had decided to visit us. “We brought your kids some Canadian grandparents to share Christmas Eve with!” Pat said.
Our attitudes about Kitimat changed: not only is the scenery breathtaking and the fishing out of this world, but the people there are among the best you can find on this earth. Twenty-five years have passed since that first Christmas in Canada. But the real spirit of Christmas has never been stronger for our family than it was that cold, wintry night when we shared in the bounty of the generous, loving people of Kitimat.