Yellowknifers celebrate 20-year 'crazy, wonderful' pyjama fairy tradition

A family tradition started 20 years ago has become a Yellowknife institution, taken up by families all over town and beyond. 

Mindy Willett says the pyjama fairy tradition started after the birth of her first child. Since then it's morphed into a neighborhood party held every year. The party soon outgrew one home and has spread well beyond the neighbourhood. 

The tradition started as an homage to Willett's mother, who died when Willett was about 14. 

"My mother gave us all pyjamas for Christmas when I was growing up, I'm sure like many Canadians," Willett says. "When I had my first child … I wanted to bring her memory into my new baby's life."

Dec. 23 was her mother's birthday. "I don't know why we did this, but we put our little newborn into the snow and made a little snow angel. It just started from there and it's really grown."

By last count, Willett says she heard of eight pyjama fairy parties in Yellowknife, including her own, which she described as "crazy, wonderful."

Instructions

The pyjama fairy, according to Willett, is "magical, but quite shy." 

To summon her, every child makes a snow angel. "That will tell her how big of pyjamas to make for you." A candle set in ice is placed in the head of each angel," and that's the fairy landing pad, because there are fairies all over the place so she needs to know where to come and land." 

The children then go to the park or lake to play while the fairy does her work. 

"At some point, one of them sees a falling star or something and they all start running to go back where they made their snow angels and of course, she's left you a perfect pair of pyjamas." 

That's when everyone heads inside to try on their new PJs and have some hot chocolate and treats. 

Spreading fairy love

Brianne Timpson doesn't know Willett, but she attended her third pyjama fairy party this year. 

"I think one of our friends heard about it down at the Racquet Club one day," she said, "so we decided to celebrate it in 2017 when we had some family in town." 

For Timpson, it's now an annual event, with about five families taking part. 

Instead of candles set in ice, they used mason jars.

With no kids herself, Timpson says it's a way to celebrate with her friends' children. 

"Just to see the kids' excitement," she said. "Of course, the pyjama fairy has to bring PJs for the adults too." 

Meaghan McLaren moved to town in November of 2016. She and her husband and two children were invited to three pyjama fairy parties that year. "It was a great introduction to the community."

They recently attended their third annual party. 

"The kids enjoy the whole thing," she says, "but they really like the party."

From Yellowknife to Winnipeg

Willett loves that the tradition has spread. 

She's heard of the pyjama fairy visiting warm places, as well as Europe, when family friends have been on trips. She's also heard of three separate parties in Winnipeg, which began when a Yellowknife friend moved there.

"I was talking to somebody in the grocery store," Willett says, "and she was telling me about the pyjama fairy party in her neighbourhood without knowing that I had known where it started."

Her own party this year included "fifty or sixty" people. The snow angels, some for children who are, like Willett's, approaching twenty, filled up four of her neighbour's backyards. 

Even if people don't know the story, Willett says the parties are a great homage to her mother, who would have turned 85 this year. Jessie Willett was a northern outpost nurse who worked among several First Nations in Ontario. 

"She was just a kind woman," Willett says. "Three rules: be kind, volunteer and pay your own way. That's it and you'll have a fulfilled life."