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The Insider's Guide to the North - December

The Insider's Guide to the North - December

The days are getting shorter, and the mercury is plummeting. At Yuletide, Northerners take the party inside.
By Up Here
Jan 29
From the January 2016 Issue

1) Listen to huskies howl at midnight

Pack a pair of snowshoes, some books, and your favourite coffee mug, and round out your year in a cozy cabin outside of Whitehorse. The catch: you might not have running water or power—and December just happens to be the darkest month of winter. For Max Leighton, a self-described “urban guy” who shared a tiny Yukon cabin with his girlfriend Joanna Tulloch for a year and a half, that was the most exciting time.

“The summertime, it’s not hard to live in a cabin,” he says. But when it’s so cold even your cooking oil freezes, and you’re constantly feeding the woodstove to stay warm, “that’s where you really get pushed to what you think is your limit—and then go beyond that.”

“You get a little bit more self-sufficient,” he reflects. “Getting your routine down, learning to haul the water—we got it at a gas station a couple miles down the road—learning to take care of the two solar panels we had, chopping wood every day so you didn’t freeze or run out of light; these strange considerations ... automatically become a major part of your life.” 

For entertainment, they would read and go on hikes, and if it ever got lonely, they could drive a half hour into town to visit friends. Leighton also mastered his culinary skills: “I got really good at cooking salmon and Arctic char on the fire,” he boasts. And since their landlord was a well-known Yukon musher who lived nearby, it was never too quiet at night.

“One of the coolest experiences was going to sleep in -30 C in the dark, and just hearing 50 sled dogs howling in unison,” says Leighton. “That’s a pretty iconic Yukon experience.”– SM

2) Merry Christmas games

It’s bright, sweaty and loud all across Nunavut during the holiday season—well, at least it is in its gyms and community centres. Games nights are held the week before and after Christmas in communities big and small. In Cambridge Bay, elders and adults sit in chairs around the gym, while kids scoot, scream, snow-angel and slide around the room. (One intensely focused four-year-old punches, then combo punches, then dropkicks, then laser-shoots an invisible villain.) There must be 300 people taking part in the nightly activities, from jigs and scavenger hunts, to traditional games, pranks and prize draws. And there are lots of prizes. 

I walk in and see George, who first invited me to the games earlier that chilly evening. In fact, he’s the first person I see, standing next to the door. He smiles and says “Merry Christmas.” I reciprocate and shake his hand.

Over the next 30 minutes, pretty much everyone who enters the gym says “Merry Christmas” to George and shakes his hand. A lady gives him a kiss: “Merry Christmas.” And throughout the night, whenever someone picks up a prize, the event’s MC holds out his mic from up on the stage and the winner leans in and says, you guessed it: “Merry Christmas.” — HM