Winter Break, early January 2020:
The faint sound of the doorbell reaches me in the basement, momentarily shattering the silence around me. For the past half-hour or so, I’ve been working on an upcycled picture frame for a school project. With Mom upstairs doing dishes, Sophie doing who knows what in her room, and Dad in Nova Scotia, for once I’ve been able to have the space entirely to myself. But now’s as good a time as any for a break, so I set down my scissors and head towards the stairs to greet the visitor.
“Hello, I was wondering if I could speak to T. MacInnes?”
I don’t recognize the voice. She’s probably a friend of Dad’s who’s come to wish him a happy New Year’s, or thank him for a Christmas gift. Since he isn’t home right now, that conversation won’t last long. There’s no need for me to come upstairs for that, so I return to the picture I was cutting out.
Snippets of conversation trickle down the stairs. I catch a few words, some of which puzzle me. There’s “Christmas card” and “thank you”. That’s pretty much what I expected. But then I hear “Latvia”. Latvia? Who does Dad know in Latvia? Finally it starts to make sense with the last word: “soldier”.
I am incredibly blessed to know and have known peace. When Canada sent soldiers to fight in the War in Afghanistan, I was too young to be thinking about the deaths and casualties, so the only memories I have of that time are of school Remembrance Day presentations where a veteran would come and speak to us. That happened twice, during the conflict, and I remember being afraid to cough because I thought it was disrespectful a lot more vividly than the presentations themselves.
Since Canada’s overseas involvement in Afghanistan ended in 2014, our troops have been spending time on home defence, training missions, and peacekeeping engagements. Because those things are more routine, the Canadian Armed Forces aren’t getting much coverage in the mainstream media anymore. Without that coverage, Canadians are turning their eyes to more prevalent international conflicts instead, and are starting to forget about the roles played at home by their own Service Members.
Up until last November, I did just that. I’d occasionally see Air Force members when I visited Trenton (Home of 8 Wing at CFB Trenton), but beyond that I tended to focus more on the military achievements of my ancestors than of present-day troops. But why shouldn’t I? I didn’t know anybody in the Armed Forces, and lived far enough away from the base that these things didn’t have an impact at all on my day-to-day life.
Then came the fateful tweet. My Twitter-obsessed father was scrolling through his feed one day when he came across a tweet from the Canadian Armed Forces. The tweet asked Canadians to send Christmas cards to the troops overseas who wouldn’t be able to celebrate with their families. That struck a chord in both my Dad and me, so we decided to answer the call.
However, deciding to write a card and actually writing a card are two separate things. When I sat down to write, I blanked. I didn’t know anything about the person who would receive my card, or what to say in the card. Eventually I put down something that shouldn’t have been that hard to come up with in the first place: cheery wishes for the holidays, and an acknowledgement of my gratitude for their service.
After addressing the card to “Any Canadian Soldier”, I popped it in the mail, hoped it was appreciated, and didn’t think much more of it.
Which brings us back to the January night of Winter Break. It turns out that the woman who came to our door looking for T. MacInnes (my Dad) was the mother of a soldier serving in Operation Reassurance in Latvia. The soldier had grown up in my hometown, so when he received a Christmas card sent by someone from his town, he excitedly shared the news with his mother. She lives here still, so she decided to come thank my Dad in person. Unfortunately he was in Nova Scotia when this happened, but ended up meeting with her a few weeks later during an interview about the story for our local paper.
(This picture was taken by the soldier in Lativa who received my Dad’s Christmas card. His card is the one on the bottom.)
What are the odds of something like that happening? There are over 3,600 members of the Canadian Armed Forces serving overseas. And the Service Member who received my Dad’s Christmas card grew up in the same small town our family’s lived in for close to 20 years? It may not be all that impressive to you, but to me that coincidence is mind-blowing.
By now you’re probably wondering why I’m writing a post about a Christmas card story in November. The reason for that is because Christmas will be here before you know it. Essentially, once Remembrance Day has passed, it’s Christmas season! So when you start writing your Christmas cards early this year to make sure they get delivered in time, consider adding a member of the Canadian Armed Forces to your list.
You don’t have to know them personally, or even send one to a Canadian Service Member if you’d prefer to write to a member of a different country’s Armed Forces instead. Just seeing that you’ve taken the time to write and mail a physical card from their home country will be enough to make their holiday away from family that much more special. It’s also an opportunity to thank a current member for their service. On Remembrance Day we tend to think about the sacrifices of the dead. But the sacrifices of the living are just as important and valid, and should be recognized, too. This is your chance to make sure they know how much that means to you.
And while I have you, know that there are other ways to make a difference this coming holiday season besides writing Christmas cards to Service Members. For example, you can also send a card or craft to a Senior’s Home- most of the residents there won’t be seeing family this Christmas either, and could really use a boost in their spirits. Or you could donate food to a food bank, or clothes, toiletries, and toys to members of your community who need a little more help in getting the items you take for granted. But then again, why wait until Christmas? There are people who need your help right now. Need doesn’t take a holiday, and neither should you. Please, if you are able, donate whenever you can. Every donation counts, no matter how small.
Thank you for listening to my story. If you decide to mail a card to a CANADIAN Armed Forces Member, here is the mailing address* below. You can also specify a specific mission or region to send your card to in the address. And as the cards need time to make their way overseas, it’s preferable if you can have your card sent by December 9th.
Any Canadian Armed Forces Member
PO Box 5004 Stn Forces
* Postage is required.
To any Service Members who might be reading this now, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from me to you! Thank you for all that you do to protect the rights and freedoms that we take for granted. I am thinking of you, and wish you well wherever you may be.