(Aaron Burden / Unsplash)

Ghosts of Cloverdale Christmases Past

The longest Christmas card in the world, jellyfish stings and tree-toppling toddlers

By Ursula Maxwell-Lewis

Cloverdale Reporter

Have you hung your stockings by the chimney with care? After all, St. Nicholas soon will be there.

Visions of sugar plums don’t dance in children’s heads on Christmas Eve as they did in 1823 when Clement Moore wrote Twas the Night Before Christmas, but Christmas Eve has retained that aura of mystery.

Woven into all the usual trimmings, twinkling lights, and mouth-watering scents of baking and turkey cooking, are those intangibles – the ghosts of Christmases past.

Charles Dickens understood this when he crafted A Christmas Carol.

Noted artist Bob McMurray is a retired accountant and 2017 Surrey Citizen of the Year. He wrote to say that my November “memories” column reminded him of some quirky Cloverdale Christmas history.

“My favourite lead-up to Christmas was back in the 70’s (I forget which year) when Cloverdale, Surrey, and Cloverdale, California, became sister cities,” he recalls.

Cloverdale, California is a pretty city located just off northern California’s Highway 101 in the Alexander Valley wine region of Sonoma County.

McMurray, a Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce member, had stopped there en route to Los Angeles, and had been given a copy of the local telephone book.

After returning home he browsed through it and noticed several businesses with similar names as Cloverdale, B.C.

“I passed that information on to their Chamber of Commerce reps and that led to the two becoming sister cities that fall,” he says.

One December day McMurray was at work and received a call from a Vancouver newspaper. Had he received any recent communications from California? At that point he hadn’t.

“The paper wire service had picked up a story from Ontario (via New York and San Francisco) about the longest Christmas card being sent from their Cloverdale to ours.”

McMurray reports that when it arrived the card was approximately 64 feet long and was signed by their residents from kindergarten through to their elected officials – including California Governor Ronald Reagan.

“It got coverage in the local and Vancouver papers,” McMurray remembers. “Our Cloverdale Board of Trade members got busy and reciprocated with the smallest card, signed by most of the local citizens and reduced to micro size, 2 x 2 inch microfilm, tucked in the band of a cowboy hat on a figure of a beaver. It was delivered in person by one of our members.”

The following year a delegation of approximately 60 locals, including Surrey Mayor Ed McKitka, attended the Cloverdale Citrus Fair in California.

Cloverdale, California reciprocated by sending a similar delegation to our Cloverdale Rodeo.

“At least one marriage that I know of was a by-product of the contacts and Canada gained one new citizen. While memories fade, this Christmas card exchange stands out in my mind,” McMurray reports.

Sydney MacPherson, another retired Cloverdale business owner, remembers Christmases of a different kind.

Like many youngsters of years ago, a bike for Christmas was a real milestone.

“I remember getting my first bike when I was about 12. My grandfather had picked it up somewhere and fixed it up. I rode that thing all over Kerrisdale, down to the Fraser River off Marine Drive and to Maple Grove Pool.”

She also remembers her mom hosting all the family dinners.

“She was a great cook and loved making desserts. On the downside, though, I remember – after all her hard work – my father coming home too tipsy to carve the turkey properly.”

Clothes are often a Christmas gift highlight. MacPherson says this one from her stepfather remains unforgettable.

“It was a pink mohair sweater with a skirt that went with it,” she writes. “Mom made all my clothes and I had never seen anything like it. It was a momentous occasion.”

Cloverdale United Church pianist Dianne Nichols wrote to say that her best childhood memory was of her aunt, choir director Shirley Barker.

“There was just one service with a warm welcome for all at the door and the full choir singing all our favourite hymns. The church was always packed to overflowing, as it will be again this year. Afterward the choir would go to the Barkers’ big home on 180th Street across from Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary for a big buffet supper. Shirley, who had seven kids, handled large crowds easily! This became a tradition until her untimely death from cancer in 1978.”

The tradition continues at the iconic white church on the Cloverdale Bypass at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 24. There will be a pop-up Christmas story for children, a wealth of Christmas music (with Dianne Nichols at the piano, of course), and a candlelight communion. Cloverdale United Church is located at 17575 58 Ave.

Nichols contrasts that with an outstanding Christmas in 1976 in Kenton-on-Sea in South Africa with her father’s cousin and extended family.

“We attended midnight mass at the local Anglican church, then went swimming on Christmas Day. I remember the Christmas tree was all twigs decorated with ornaments. Definitely very different from our usual Canadian celebration. Oh – and I got stung by a bluebottle in ankle deep water. That’s not an experience I ever want to repeat!”

My own Christmases are scattered around the world, but one we always chuckle about took place when my youngest daughter, Hilary, was just a toddler.

We were unaware that Hilary had wandered out of the kitchen until there was a loud crash. Dashing into the living room a very shocked little face surrounded by pine branches and ornaments greeted us.

Hilary had parked herself on the hearth (no fire fortunately!) and proceeded to eat her way up our homemade popcorn strings. Eventually meeting some resistance, she gave the garland a frustrated tug and toppled the tree.

She’s never lived that down, or when, during one of our rare snowstorms, she hid the Christmas toboggan. I only discovered it under her bed after the snow had melted. “Well, it’s MY two boggan,” she rebelliously informed me. Hard to believe she was considered the easiest of the three kids.

And, now, whatever your memories of Christmas past, may Christmas present be peaceful and the New Year be happy and healthy.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the founder and former managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter.

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