Taking part in the PEI Association for Newcomers program
by Nina Linton
At a time of the year when many families flock together to celebrate the holidays, those whose loved ones are across the miles can find the much touted Christmas season to be disheartening. But for one Island couple who opened their home up to strangers during the season of familiar faces, their definition of family has now expanded.
Karrie and Peter Griffin, along with their youngest son Jeremy, left many of their friends and close family in Ottawa to make a life for themselves in Canada’s smallest province. As their first Island Christmas approached they felt out of sorts in their new home.
“We are used to hosting our whole family, so we were feeling a bit lost. Then we remembered that we had heard about the (Holiday Host) program the year before and thought it would be a nice thing to do. We can kind of commiserate how it feels to be at a new place at Christmas time,” reveals Karrie. “We just thought that if we are feeling kind of isolated here and we are Canadian and this is what we are used to, imagine how people feel who don’t speak the language are feeling, where everything is so different. They must be feeling this way times ten.”
Run by the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada (PEI ANC) the Holiday Host program has been a growing project over the last several years. Created to connect newcomers with Canadian families so they can enjoy the festive season together, this one-time PEI ANC volunteer commitment matches local families or individuals with new residents who are invited to join them for a meal, party or other festive activity between December 23rd and January 1st.
Feeling this program was for them, the Griffins signed up in 2009 and were matched with the Esmali family who had recently immigrated to the Island from Iran.
“I was kind of nervous before they came but as soon as I saw them I got so excited,” recalls Karrie. “It was kind of funny at first because their English wasn’t the greatest…”
“And we couldn’t speak Farsi but it is amazing how you manage to bridge that problem,” chimes Peter.
Sitting down to eat the Griffins shared with the Esmalis customary Christmas cuisine, with one of the Island couples favourite memories being the Esmalis’ son Omid’s immediate attraction to a favourite Canadian dish.
“When we served the stuffing, he was so excited about the stuffing. He said ‘What do you call this?’ He was just taken a back by it,” says Karrie.
“They were willing to participate in absolutely everything and they wanted to experience as much as they possibly could, how we do things here and learning about why we do things here,” says Peter who said that the family was keen in learning more about the decorated holiday tree and even accompanied the couple to the Christmas Eve church service at 11 pm.
Feeling that as much as they shared with the Esmali family, the Esmali family shared with them, Karrie and Peter embraced the stories about their homeland and culture, enriching their evening and lives. The two families formed a close friendship after their initial meeting, which included the Griffins attending a traditional Iranian meal at the Esmalis’ home.
“That was one thing that struck me, was that the cultural differences are vast but basically we are all the same,” he says. “I am not sure who got the most out of this, I really don’t. It was an equal exchange. We both enjoyed it and we both learned a great deal.”