By Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
Inevitably the onslaught of “Seasonal” “Sales,”craft markets, Christmas lists, and to-decorate-or-not-to-decorate decisions numbs my brain, not to mention plunging me into my personal version of Dow Jones bear market panic.
Was Christmas always so frenetic… so expensive?
Based on the principle that the past is easer to dig up via 21st century technology – plus a few mates with good memories – I fired off email memos requesting help. Hit me with your Christmas memories, I begged.
Like magic, replies soon clinked into my email box. Clarence getting his wings sprang to mind.
“Each Christmas my Dad put the huge, impressive Santa he’d made on the roof of our two-story Thunder Bay house,” recalls Maureen Bush of Langley.
“What comes to mind, though, is the year of the big Christmas Eve snowstorm when I was 12 years old.”
“We woke up to find poor Santa had tumbled onto the front lawn.”
“It was still blustery Christmas morning, but Dad insisted on putting Santa back on the roof to welcome my aunts, uncles, and cousins when they arrived for dinner. So, while Mom and I worked on Christmas dinner, Dad headed outside.”
“It didn’t turn out well.”
“Suddenly, we heard a loud thud!”
“Rushing outside we found Dad on the sidewalk, and he wasn’t getting up. The ladder had slipped on the ice. Panic set in for all of us.”
“Thankfully, our neighbour heard the commotion, calmed us down, and called an ambulance,” she says.
“Coincidentally, my aunt who was coming over for dinner took a tumble on the ice on their sidewalk around the time Dad landed on ours. She ended up with a broken leg.”
“Mom had quite the dilemma. Should we carry on with Christmas dinner, or cancel?”
Once Dad was settled in the hospital and we knew he was in good hands, we went ahead with our feast, but with two important people missing it wasn’t the same as previous years.”
“My Dad ended up with a broken back and wore a cast for several months. Needless to say, Santa’s days on our roof were over,“ concludes Bush.
When it came to unique gifts, Lorraine Albert’s Edmonton childhood took the cake…or, more precisely, the ginger ale.
“There’s nothing like the bite of cold ginger ale hitting the back of your throat!” she says, and here’s why.
Edmonton was, and still is, home for Albert and her family.
“Christmas was the only time of the year when we had ginger ale in the house,” she remembers. “It went along with the Golden Wedding rye that all the adults enjoyed.”
“We lived in a big old three-story rooming house in Garneau, a neighbourhood right next to the University of Alberta campus, and rented ‘light house keeping’ rooms to university students. There were nine bedrooms in the house and we rented out all of them!”
“Mom and us three kids slept in the dining room converted into a bedroom. Dad slept on a portable cot in the kitchen. Needless to say, there weren’t too many hiding spots for the ginger ale, so my sister and I usually found it and drank it! Most parents hid Christmas presents, but not at our house!” says Albert.
Recalling her English childhood, Gilean Greenwood writes, “When I was small we always went to grandma and grandpa`s for Christmas. They lived in a three bedroomed house and had three married sons. On Christmas Eve eight adults and eight children all slept there. I wish I could remember where we all fitted.”
“The three daughters-in-law helped prepare the sumptuous Christmas Day lunch in a kitchen about the size of a large cupboard.”
“When I got married playing hostess defaulted to me. Christmas Eve was hectic – the busiest day of the year. ”
“The turkey, always a big one, was tucked into the oven at midnight and left to cook slowly all night. By the time I went to bed I was shattered. All hope for a good night’s sleep was “knocked on the head two hours later” when the children began clamouring to see if Santa had arrived. The year “Santa” surprised her two-year-old son with a police pedal car still prompts a smile. On the big day the youngster’s eyes nearly popped out of his head with excitement.
Still in his pyjamas, he checked the tires, climbed in and tooted the horn – scaring the dog half to death. He rang the bell, presumably to warn the furniture of what was to come, and sat behind the wheel stroking the dashboard.
Suddenly, he looked up and asked, “So, where`s the key?”
Marge Hicks and Lillian Gillick both grew up on Manitoba farms. Email is foreign to both of them, so conversation over coffee worked just fine for reminiscing.
Gifts didn’t feature in either of their Christmas childhood memories, but family gatherings with an abundance of music and fresh farm produce did.
On the 460 acre Starbuck, Manitoba family farm Hicks grew up on, hard work was the order of the day.
Family business was done in cash – no cheques or credit.
“I was lucky if I got 25 cents to go up to town on a Saturday night,” she recalls.
Getting to the nearest town involved navigating about 5 miles of dirt roads, particularly hazardous in bad weather.
“I remember one time we rode to town in a horse-drawn covered wagon with a potbellied stove in the middle. Well, you had to keep warm somehow,” she explains. “Then the wagon tipped over and caught on fire. My cousin got a hot coal on her neck.”
She also remembers the bones broken when her mom got her hand caught in the mangle (wringer for pressing water out of laundry), and the Chinese herbalist whose mysterious potions saved her mother’s life.
Big family gatherings stand out in her memory, highlighted by home-cooked meals, card and board games, and her mom playing the piano while everyone sang. So does the outhouse, and the cut up catalogue that went with it!
Nail polish is the one Christmas gift that stands out her mind. “Dad didn’t like nail polish,” she recalls. “What’s that smell in here? Get rid of it!” he ordered when arriving from the barn to find her experimenting with it in the kitchen. She’s never used it since – well, maybe a bit of “clear” sometimes.
“Good memories,” says Hicks. “It’s a pity young people today don’t experience some of it.”
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis welcomes your Christmas recollections for her December column. Contact her at email@example.com