By Callum McDonell

“Harder than it looks.”

That was the consensus that emerged from CCI’s attempt to build gingerbread houses, a part of the virtual Holiday Cheer event held a week before Christmas.

Some people were remarkably successful. A professional-caliber example was provided by one of CCI’s youth clients, though his experience working in a bakery in Syria undoubtedly gave him an edge. Others found it a considerable engineering challenge: roofs caved in; walls fell down. No gingerbread persons were injured. But it definitely took a lot of trial-and-error before participants settled on the correct amount of icing-mortar needed to keep the walls in place. Taste-testing also seemed to be part of the process for many of the architects.

Reuben, a staff member at Welcome House, joined the Zoom event with a room full of young participants wearing too-big Santa hats. There was a lot of excitement, and modest progress was made on the houses until Reuben made the mistake of briefly leaving the room.

When he returned, much of the building material had disappeared. No one was sure where it had gone; or if they knew, they weren’t talking.

“I was gone for less than 5 minutes…” said Reuben with a shrug.

Besides gingerbread house construction, the Holiday Cheer event included a sing-along and a discussion of holiday traditions around the world. Clients shared their traditions, and most particularly, the foods they enjoy during the holidays. Tamales, caviar and kebabs were a few favourites, and there was a debate about the virtues of fruitcake.

The evening ended with a spirited rendition of Jingle Bells, a song that was new to many of the participants. Apart from the challenge of an unfamiliar song, a choir is difficult to direct via Zoom. The result was a totally new, and very enthusiastic, arrangement of an old classic.

The event was a collaboration between CEC’s Youth and Family teams, and the Matching Program, as was the previous week’s Winter Café. The Winter Café was an opportunity to discuss winter activities and safety with those new to Ottawa’s cold and snowy winters. Winter safety kits, which included socks, mitts, a hat, hand warmers and lip balm, were distributed to the participants.

CEC and Matching Program staff had spent two weeks delivering gingerbread house kits and winter safety kits to participants, and their effort was rewarded with two very successful events. Hopefully the newcomer participants feel more prepared to enjoy the winter ahead, and have a greater sense of participation in Canadian Christmas traditions.