Consider This: Sharing Family Memories and Mincemeat Pies

When I was just five years old my family moved from northern England to a small town about an hour and a half northwest of Edmonton. We…

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When I was just five years old my family moved from northern England to a small town about an hour and a half northwest of Edmonton. We moved away from my cousins, my aunts, my uncles and my grandparents, my school, and my friends to a place where we knew no one. I don’t remember ever feeling sad at the time. I do remember the people who welcomed us and made us part of their families. I do remember the new friends I made.

Growing up in my adopted town, Christmas was probably my favourite holiday. I remember every year on Christmas Eve, loads of friends would come to our house and share some cheer. Mum would make mincemeat pies and mulled wine. Sometimes we’d stay up late and go to midnight mass even though we weren’t Catholic because the candlelit service was always the most beautiful. Silent night was my favourite hymn. Christmas Day was spent with our adopted families. The dinners were lavish, our bellies were full. We would walk after dinner in the crisp, squeaky snow. I was surrounded by people that loved me and that was the best thing ever.

To this day, I have never spent Christmas away from my family. My mum is our glue and she ensures that we maintain tradition, even as it gets more complicated. Now I have two families, two (or more) Christmases. The dinners are still lavish, and our bellies are still full. I am still surrounded by people that love me and it’s still the best thing ever. My mum still makes mincemeat pies. I have been blessed and I am grateful. I have learned that when you have plenty, you make the table bigger.

Working as a social worker for the Dean of Students, I get to meet all kinds of students from all over Alberta, Canada and the world. Working with students makes me keenly aware that, just as the holiday season is a joyous time of year for some, it is a difficult, lonely time of year for others. Whether a person celebrates Christmas or not, the season can draw attention to that which is absent, missing or scarce, such as money, friends, or family. Other peoples’ cheer can be a reminder of our own loneliness. For those that can’t make it home over the holidays, campus can be an empty, lonely place.

When we first heard about Share the Cheer, my partner and I were very excited to participate. For us this was a way of extending our table, caring for our international students, and learning about other cultures as the students learned about ours. The first year we hosted, we had a student from Turkey and a student from Iran for dinner, and the second year we hosted, we had the good fortune to host three Chinese students. We’re not a super traditional household, so I think students were surprised by the fact that we didn’t have the customary turkey, but I think they enjoyed my family’s Christmas Eve tradition: fondue!

I think they also enjoyed the opportunity to get off campus and learn a little about holiday traditions, including driving in snowstorms, in Canada. But let’s be honest, I think the thing they most enjoyed was spending time with our dogs, Sadie and Adele. We really enjoyed the opportunity to learn a little bit about their lives, their homes and the different holidays they celebrate. Share the Cheer has been, for us, an amazing opportunity to broaden our world and connect with our international students and we can’t wait to do it again this year…Maybe this time I’ll try and make the mincemeat pies.

Jane’s Mum’s Mincemeat Pies


(Secret traditional ingredient) Superstore Vegetarian mincemeat
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter (cut into small cubes)
¼ cup + water

1. Make pastry: cut butter into flour and salt until butter is broken up. Add water gradually and mix until the dough comes together.
2. Chill dough: wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more — up to 1 day.
3. Roll out chilled dough and cut rounds — place into oiled muffin tin.
4. Put mincemeat into dough in muffin tin.
5. Make pie toppers by cutting out stars or other festive shapes from the remaining dough. Place toppers on top of the pies.
6. Bake at 375F for about 20 minutes. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.
7. Extra decadent option: while pies are still warm, lift their lids and put little knobs of butter under them.

You can sign-up to host a Share the Cheer dinner — registration for hosts is open until December 9, 2018.sign-up to host a Share the Cheer dinner — registration for hosts is open until December 9, 2018.

Jane Slessor — Social Worker, Office of the Dean of Students

Jane is a social worker with ACCESS Open Minds and has been at the U of A for almost 3 years. Jane is also a student and ecstatic to be on the final stretch of her clinical social work masters. Jane is passionate about working alongside people to ensure they have the supports they require to flourish, while challenging oppressive systems that cause people to need supports in the first place