An Olde Fashioned Christmas

The Christmas season brings memories of times long past.
My earliest recollections seem to centre on Santa Claus and the home grown balsam or spruce tree sitting in our dining room. It was decorated with ropes of red and green garland, tiny paper pull-out red bells, and homemade paper chains.
Small gifts discreetly nestled among the greenery. Overnight Santa’s gifts mysteriously appeared – sometimes a tin horse and cart, a celluloid horn that tasted horrible and a stocking stuffed with one orange, nuts, and hard candy.
I remember one special Christmas Eve when I was bundled off to bed earlier than usual so Santa wouldn’t be delayed on his long journey.
I was getting almost warm and close to sleep when dad crept upstairs. He whispered to me, “Toots, Sandy has been here – come and see what he brought.”
Carrying a coal oil lamp he guided the way downstairs.
Beside the tree, sitting in the little rocking chair, was the most beautiful doll. I fell in love with her immediately. She became my companion through many adventures.
Even before youngsters started school they were given the opportunity to “say their piece” at the school concert. Mother practised with me until I knew my recitation. When the concert night came, I stood before all those people and spoke my lines.
“I have a little finger,
I have a little toe,
And when I grow up bigger,
I’ll have a little beau.”

I wondered why everyone laughed because I thought a beau was similar to our potato bowl.
In my youth, concerts were held at school and church. Practice began in November. We learned new songs, drills and dialogues for skits. Everyone had parts. Hissing gas lamps, arms lifted high, to hold fragile mantels to supply light for the big night. Families arrived via cutter or walked.
Mothers squeezed into school desks which they had long outgrown and pupils sat at the front on benches. Excitement ran high before the programme was presented and Santa arrived to distribute our exchange gifts.
And then there was the frosty night our neighbours picked us up to attend the church concert. Boards anchored to the sleigh sides provided extra seating.
I complained to the lady beside me, “My nose is getting cold.” She replied with a chuckle, “Someone should knit you a little mitten for it.”
Our Christmas meal was shared alternatively with Aunt Melissa and Uncle Hugh at their home near Belwood.
We travelled the eight miles by team and sleigh or cutter. The team had regular bells but the driving mare hitched to the cutter sported smaller, more musical chime bells, a joyous, happy melody.
Mother heated bricks to keep our feet warm, plus the heavy robe tucked over our knees helped.
The farm house, overflowing with relatives, always welcomed us with mouth-watering smells of goose, chicken roasting, turnips cooking, pudding steaming, and mince pie waiting in the warming closet over the stove.
What a great family time we all enjoyed, eating, laughing, visiting, doing dishes, and exchanging gifts.
I remember the special year that we travelled eleven miles to Uncle Jim’s and Aunt Sarah’s at Ennotville via sleigh and team.
Dad drove over unplowed roads and took detours through fields – farmers didn’t complain when their rail road fences were dismantled.
That was the year I had fallen heir to a puny white turkey from our flock. The other fowl had been killed, dressed, and sold to a Fergus butcher in early December. My little white turkey hen had grown to a plump adulthood – the time had come for her to meet the axe. Mother stuffed and cooked her to take along as a special treat for her in-laws, but I made sure that I didn’t eat a bite!
Visiting went on during the meal and all afternoon. The Toronto and Grand Valley cousins enjoyed an impromptu sleigh ride in our conveyance.
We even stayed for supper. Neighbours arrived with their fiddles and dancing began in the parlour. What wonderful toe-tapping music.
When it was time to leave in the winter darkness, I cuddled down into a nest of straw, pulled up the quilts and promptly went to sleep.
Dad, perched high on his seat with his barn lantern hanging by the side, guided his horses home to their warm stable.