The technical definition of family includes those people to whom one is related by blood.
But for a group in Burnaby who share the holidays with one another, family is also the friends you choose to be with - and who you reach out to help in times of trouble.
Jennifer Lowther is part of a group that has, over the years, created their own unique "family" gathering for the holidays and recently decided to get involved with the bureau to extend their blessings.
"There's a group of us that is a mixture of family and friends," she said. "None of us were born in British Columbia, so over the years, we ended up celebrating holidays together . although we aren't all related, we are a family."
Two years ago, after hearing about the Burnaby Christmas Bureau, they decided to get involved through family sponsorship, in which a sponsoring group gets matched up with and provides food and gifts for a family that is registered with the bureau.
"We've been fortunate to have wonderful Christmases and haven't needed to worry about the extra costs that come with making a large turkey dinner and all the celebrations," she said. "At the same time, we know that we would not be as fortunate as we are if it weren't for the people who helped us get here and we also know what it is like to have unforeseen circumstances and temporary situations put obstacles in your path. We wanted other families to be able to celebrate Christmas by having a family dinner and gifts for the kids without having the financial stress."
They were too late that first year and missed the deadline to serve as a sponsor group but rather than waiting a year to try again, they decided to find out what kinds of items were most needed and donate them directly to the bureau's toy room. Last year, they made sure to register early and were matched with a family.
Lowther says the experience was enjoyable on every level.
"The family we sponsored had had a rough year - they were very appreciative of the support," she says.
"We had a lot of fun shopping and packaging up the gifts and food and knowing that we were able to help someone out and see the direct benefit was very rewarding. The Christmas spirit is about sharing and being kind to others."
The group of 10 has already registered to be matched with another family this year.
Like last year, the group will contact the family, find out what they need and what kinds of gifts the children would like, and then prepare the hamper for delivery prior to Christmas.
The program is a cornerstone for the Burnaby Christmas Bureau, says executive director Stephen D'Souza, and something they're hoping to see grow this year.
"We're really trying to put an emphasis on sponsorship this year. It's a real opportunity to connect with people in the community and to work directly with helping out," he said.
"Sponsors tell us that it really adds to that spirit of Christmas - it can be a very eye-opening experience," he added.
D'Souza notes that many people have "preconceived notions of what poverty looks like" and it can be a challenge to set those aside.
"Sometimes what you see isn't what you think it looks like when a family is in need of help."
For example, many families turn to the bureau after an unexpected job loss, accident or illness has severely impacted their finances but they may previously have been financially comfortable.
"From an outsider looking in and judging, they may not look like they need help," said D'Souza.
Families who register with the bureau are required to provide financial information, including income tax details and pay stubs.
"There's that idea that there are people who abuse (programs like this), but these are families in our community who are doing the best they can for their children and maybe facing a challenging time in their lives," he said.
Sharing some Christmas spirit can have a profound impact on the families but also on the sponsors and others who donate to the bureau, he said.
That's a sentiment that Lowther agrees with heartily.
"Being able to see the direct benefit of a donation is something special," she told the NOW.
As well, she says there's something uniquely special about having the chance to keep a holiday tradition alive and well for others.
"Christmas is a special time of year. . Although gift giving can get a little crazy, there is something to be said about keeping the tradition and the meaning behind that gift giving.
"It's not about the value that is spent but the gesture of providing the gift to show you care and how much someone means to you. To be able to keep this meaning and tradition alive for our youth is really important," she said.
To find out more about the Burnaby Christmas Bureau's sponsorship program, see www.burnaby communityconnections. com or call 604-299-5778.