Today is the first day of December and so begins the wonderful lead-up to Christmas. Inspired by my friend Selma of Eclectic Home & Life in the UK, I am going to try and post every day until the 24th. As life sometimes serves up a few curve-balls, though, I am not making a solemn promise, except to try this. I have no pictures yet of Christmases when I was still at home with my parents and siblings, so this post is photo-light.
I know that there is a lot of commercial push to get rid of our traditions and do new things all the time, but I choose to honour the past and also to add some new twists from time to time. After all, every tradition was new at one time, I expect.
Today I am going to write about some of the traditions that I grew up with and some of the changes that came along.
We always had a real tree. My Dad worked in the bush as a logger for most of my early years and he would cut a tree and bring it home shortly before Christmas. Once the tree was securely fastened into the tree stand, the strings of coloured lights were placed. This was after we began renting houses with electricity, so I was likely about ten or eleven years old. The bulbs were the large ones some of you will e familiar with. I don’t recall ever seeing the tiny twinkling faery lights on our home trees. But my last Christmas at home for many years was the year I left for university when I was only nineteen.
My parents bought ornaments in their first years together and those went on the tree every year: fragile birds with spun glass tails that perched upon a spring with a clothespin-like clip to hold it to the branch, lovely balls and teardrop shapes with conical bits that thrust inward, formed of crinkles that caught the light. some plain glass balls of bright colours, some globes, some bells; of these, some had stripes around their middles. There were garlands of tinsel draped around the tree, criss-crossing back and forth. The last thing to go on were the silver icicles, We children, at least the older ones, were allowed to help with the decorating once we were old enough to be careful. When we helped drape the icicles on the tinsel strands, we had very different styles. I always (and still) liked to place them one by one, savouring the moment and making it last as long as possible. I’m like that in nearly everything. Others liked to sort of toss the icicles, sometimes in bunches. and get the job done.
Every year there was at least one or toddlers and nearly always a cat ad a dog, too. AS you likely know, this is perilous for Christmas trees. We had a couple of trees fall over after someone tried to climb them or simply grabbed at the branches for balance.But Dad was resourceful. One year the tree was stood firmly in the middle of the playpen and all the breakable ornaments hung out of reach. After that, dad alway used fishing line to tie the top of the tree to a hook in each wall (the tree stood in a corner of the living room from then on). The tree sometimes was pulled a bit, but it never fell down again.
As far as I can remember, we always hung stockings on Christmas Eve. Not the fancy stitched or quilted or knitted ones seen today. We used our Dad’s grey woolen work socks clipped to a string across the fireplace with some of Mum’s wooden clothespins. Our names were printed on the pins so that we would get the correct stocking in the morning.
The year I was eleven we had moved to Chase and lived in a house that had been the original hospital. It was three stories tall and had a basement that none of us ever saw. I suppose the stairs were a bit unsafe.
That Christmas my two oldest brothers woke up in the middle of the night, went down and collected their filled stockings and then emptied them on the ends of their iron frame beds. I never heard them, but our parents did. I gather that they had to put the contents back into the stockings and were told, no doubt in very stern tones, to wait until our parents were up in the morning before venturing downstairs again.
A few years later, in out last house in Salmon Arm, one child decided to maximize their haul. They asked, and were given permission, to hang two stockings. In the morning, we all were eager to see how the ploy had worked. How exciting to see that both stockings bulged with packages! Disappointment followed swiftly: one held the traditional items; the other had brown-paper wrapped bits of coal, rusty nails and the like. It was full, though!
The next year the same child tried a different tactic. Figuring that two stockings might have been seen by Santa as rather greedy, they asked to hang a different stocking. Again permission was granted (to much private amusement for our parents, I’m sure) and one of Mum’s nylon stockings was borrowed. Again, in the morning, we were filled with anticipation. And, again, the stocking was full to the top! In the bottom were the traditional items and above them was a very long balloon blown up and tied and even sticking out a bit above the top. After that, there were no more attempts to get more than a proper share of the Christmas bounty.
The traditional items in each stocking never varied: a Christmas orange in the toe, still wrapped in that green paper, some nuts in the shell, a good handful of hard candy, striped, solid, twisted, even some licorice. And then there would be a coupleof toys or maybe coloured pencils, sometimes, as we grew older, cologne for me and maybe a tube of Brylcreem or a small bottle of Old Spice aftershave for the two oldest boys. Thai was in the days of the Elvis-like ducktail hairdos, slicked back and held in place by a good layer of Brylcreem.
Christmas and family:
I was the oldest of nine children and my parents took in foster babies once the youngest child was four. So that last year I was at home we had ten children under our roof from summer on. I went home for Christmas that year after the mid-term exams were done. It was the last Christmas ever shared by our whole family.
Because I moved to Vancouver Island to attend university and stayed on after I dropped out, and my parents moved from Salmon Arm where I am living now, to Kamloops a year later, then a few years after that to 70 Mile House a bit further north, because I didn’t have much money and mostly because I chose a life much like my parents had lived in their early years (but which they had worked hard to leave behind), I didn’t get home very often. Travel in winter was difficult and my sons’ Dad and I didn’t drive. I never shared another Christmas with my family until I moved to Thorhild, an hour’s drive north of Edmonton in 1999 to help when my Dad became ill. He passed away that September,but Mum and I put up their small tree (an artificial one by then) and we went to Edmonton for a few days and had Christmas dinner with my youngest sister. her husband and my second-youngest sister. We had Christmas at the house of the youngest sister for most of the years to come, although Mum and I always baked up a storm for the holidays.
I had hoped to cover a few more topics, but my laptop is acting up (Windows wants to do some ‘update’ or other and won’t let me pick a convenient time), so I will leave the rest for tomorrow and maybe a few other days, too. Perhaps shorter posts will be best.
Feel free to share any of your own memories, traditions, thoughts, etc., below. And don’t worry about length. Heaven knows I’ve posted far more than my share of over-long comments on some of your blogs!
I hope some of you will post frequently this month, if not every day. The world can use a great outpouring of good and happy thoughts these days. Advent begins on the third this year. Do you have any favourite Advent traditions?
Have a wonderful day today. (it’s technically the first, but it’s only 2 am here; I haven’t gotten to bed yet). Love and Light to each of you.