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December 9, 2002

Christmas Traditions

How many traditions does your family have during the holiday season? Growing up we didn't have many steadfast traditions that we'd follow each and every year. One we did have started as everyone in the family being allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve, just to whet our appetites for the following morning. Within a few years, this tradition had drastically changed the way our family did Christmas, as we were then opening all of our presents on Christmas Eve, and leaving only our mutually-filled stockings and a sumptuous breakfast for Christmas morning.

Having a fairly new family of my own, we're just starting in on the Christmas traditions. This year, my wife wants us to start one: go down to the park to see all the Christmas light displays, and then head over to our favourite restaurant for dinner: Swiss Chalet. The Chalet has been a big part of her life growing up, and I'm quite content to take it as part of my own, and endow it as part of my daughter's growing up as well.

One sure sign of the Christmas season fast approaching is Swiss Chalet's Festive Special. For the recently immigrated and Canadians living under rocks, the Festive Special is Swiss Chalet's stalwart quarter chicken dinner with some added goodies. To it is added a scoop of stuffing (I do mean scoop, and I mean "stuffing"), cranberry sauce, and a treat afterwards. Up until a few years ago, this post-dinner treat was a personal size Toblerone bar, one of my favourite forms of chocolate. Highly regrettably, Swiss Chalet parted company with the Toblerone in favour of an assorted 5-pack of Lindt chocolates from Lindor.

If you ask my wife, she'll say that she actually prefers the Lindt chocolates. In each package you get two dark chocolate, two milk chocolate, and one white chocolate truffles. I'm not that fussy for white chocolate, but I will admit the other two varieties are quite good. However, they just do not hold the same kind of appeal that a triangle of nutty and nougat-y Toblerone bar does. While my wife's would usually sit in the fridge unmolested for long periods of time, mine would follow me to work immediately and quickly disappear.

While Swiss Chalet is content to pretend that their Festive Special is still the Festive Special, I will mourn the loss of a Toblerone bar after my meal. Perhaps if they ditched Lindor and instead offered Clodhoppers instead, I would be appeased. Not only are Clodhoppers really, really good, but they're a Canadian product. What could better complement a quarter chicken meal during the holiday season?

Among the many other treats that we enjoy indulging in during the Christmas season, one of our favourites has been President's Choice Candy Cane with Chocolate Fudge Crackle Ice Cream. Appearing in President's Choice grocers only for a limited time each season, my wife and I would usually plow through more tubs of the stuff than I'd ever care to admit.

This year, however, President's Choice has soured the taste of this frozen confection for me. In previous years it was available in the standard 2L tub. For those of you who follow President's Choice ice cream developments, you'll know that this past summer they introduced a rather decadent cashew and caramel ice cream. However, for some reason they decided that a 1.5L format would better suit their needs. For some reason they have since switched their Candy Cane ice cream over into a 1.5L tub as well.

Unfortunately, that is the only change they made to the product. I say "unfortunate" because they are still charging the same $4.99 per tub as they were last year. To put that in clearer terms, they just raised the price of Candy Cane ice cream by a third. Never before have I seen such a blatant profit grab. Even if they had reduced the price to only $3.99 as a token gesture acknowledging that they have reduced the amount of product they are offering now, they would still be making more profit per unit ice cream, but people like me wouldn't have that much to complain about.

Before you accuse me of not remembering correctly, I have proof that the price is the same. By saving the tapes from our grocer, we can give them to local charities that receive $1 for every $450 in receipts they bring in. I have been saving tapes for a long time, and apparently haven't given them away for a long time. I have one tape dated January 15, 2001 that shows the purchase of "PC ICE CREAM" at a price of $4.99. I know my wife and I pretty well, and the only PC ice cream we'd be buying in January would be President's Choice Candy Cane with Chocolate Fudge Crackle Ice Cream, enjoying it while it's still available. Does this signal a leaner and meaner corporate strategy at President's Choice? All I know is that it means I'll be buying a lot less ice cream this year than I have in previous years. I don't enjoy being insulted in the frozen foods isle.

This past New Year's was an absolute blast. My wife and I hosted a small gathering at our place consisting of two sets of our friends that were married an also had a young child around the same age of our own. We had dinner, let the kids play, put them to bed, and proceeded to have some good, clean, grown-up fun. One friend brought his Playstation2 along, which fuelled a great deal of the evening. The highlight of the evening, in my eyes, came after the New Year had been rung in. We were watching a TV channel that was airing CityTV feed to get the Canadian countdown (which, if I remember correctly, got screwed up). Once the countdown was over, something very strange took its place.

The TV listings only showed "All Night Banzai! Party", which explained exactly nothing. We found out in short order that Banzai! is a half-hour show that originates in the UK, and is a mock Japanese-style betting show. The subject of the bets is what really stands this show apart - it can be, and was, just about anything. Which man has the real "monster package"? How much does this celebrity's right breast weigh? How long can Mr. Shake Hands Man shake this celebrity's hand before he's forced to let go? Admittedly, it sounds fairly lame with my brief description, but in the right frame of mind I can almost guarantee that you'll either love it or hate me for making you watch it.

Shortly after the first set of penises was shown, one set of friends decided that it was time to go home (not coincidently). The other friends were staying the night, so we quickly turned Banzai! in to a drinking game that lasted until after 2am. There was still 2 more hours of madness being aired by the time we went to bed, so we recorded it and watched the rest the next day. While not quite as screamingly funny being fully rested and sober, it was still worthy entertainment.

Sadly, the All Night Banzai! Party was only a one-time event. I recently contacted CityTV's programming department to request it again, but was told that something else had already been scheduled for that time slot, and that Banzai! was not likely to return. Thus dies a tradition not even in its infancy.

I'm at a point in my life where traditions are ethereal. I now have my own family, and in-laws who are also grandparents, anxious for some quality time with their granddaughter. Christmas traditions that my wife and I have upheld growing up now must make room for the changes that come with becoming a new family. Some we'll keep - like Swiss Chalet and cutting our own Christmas tree - and others will simply fall by the wayside. I can take comfort in at least one tradition that I know will endure - there's gonna be plenty of food, and I'm going to eat too much of it. Where did my sweat pants go?


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