Remembering the joys of Christmas past

When I was a kid, the days leading up to Christmas were the most exciting days of the year.

When I was a kid, the days leading up to Christmas were the most exciting days of the year.

We breezed through September; made it through October; struggled through November; and then finally December – and the arrival of . . . the Simpson Sears Christmas catalogue.

The catalogue was a plethora of toys, clothes, gadgets, and candy – everything you could possibly want.

My brothers and I would fight over who got to pore through it first. We’d dream about all the fabulous treats inside and circle the goodies we wanted Santa to bring.

My mom did most of her shopping locally.  Trail had all the “big box” stores back then: Eaton’s, Hudson Bay, and a fairly big Simpson Sears. She also did a lot of “on-line” shopping – only the “line” was the telephone line as she ordered stuff from the catalogue.

Our family always had a contest:  who could buy the best present at the cheapest price.

I remember the year I won (and pardon me if I’ve told this story before).

My dad was a musician, and in those days, he stuffed a rag in his saxophone to muffle the sound. (People didn’t like to have their ears blown out like they do today.) The rag he used was some torn-up old bed sheet, and I got this idea to buy him a nice new sax stuffer. I went to the fabric department in the Hudson Bay store and looking for  a piece of velvet. Well, the velvet was quite beyond my price range since I only had $5 to spend on the entire family. So the sales lady found a beautiful piece of green velvet that had been used in a display case. She sold it to me for 75 cents.

He was so tickled with that piece of velvet; he used it in his saxophone until the day he died – in later years as a rag to polish it. I think it was the best present I ever bought anybody to this day.

Christmas in Trail was a fun time, because people actually stayed home. They didn’t gallivant off to the far reaches of the planet to visit long-lost relatives. So you could actually visit – unexpectedly.

Back in the 50s, my mom got ready for Christmas by scrubbing our old house from pillars to post; and by baking her brains out – mincemeat tarts, shortbread, sausage rolls. She sprinkled icing sugar over all the sweet stuff so she’d know if any little hands touched anything before they were supposed to.

My parents never decorated the outside of the house, but inside, it looked like the Sistine Chapel – all done up in twisted crepe paper, plastic mistletoe, and last years’ Christmas cards hanging corner to corner across every room. The nativity scene was set up in the fireplace (we never used the fireplace for anything else.) And the tree (always a fresh one) was trimmed with bubble lights, glass balls and tinsel.

Everybody used tinsel in those days. (Whatever happened to tinsel, anyway?)

On Christmas Eve, we packed up the car with presents for cousins, aunts and uncles (and there were a lot of them) and we’d go from house to house, exchanging gifts.

Christmas morning, we’d open all our presents and then my mom stuffed the huge turkey my dad got as a Christmas bonus from CM&S (Cominco). We’d have a belt-busting meal, usually with a dozen or so relatives; and all the men would collapse afterwards on the sofa, while all the women did the dishes.

My dad would revive and haul out the punch bowl and my mom would mix up a “Bowl of Merry Christmas.” It was basically a whipped eggnog that you had to eat with a spoon.

More relatives and friends packed into our little house and more food would appear along with musical instruments. (No karaoke or stereo.) My dad would play the sax, brothers on clarinet and guitar, Uncle Monty played the bones ( a pair of ribs bones from a cow that he played like spoons.) And everyone would sing until their throats were sore.

Fast forward to 2011.

We don’t purchase presents for cousins, aunts and uncles anymore. My kids buy for each other’s kids. We don’t visit folks much because so many people are away. And of course, drinking and driving laws have changed and people just don’t risk it like they did back then. So no “Bowl of Merry Christmas.”

The big dinner is still a go, but so many people are counting calories. “Can you make those mashed potatoes without so much salt, butter or cream?” and “Hold the chocolate.”

Back in those days, people weren’t offended by displays of Nativity scenes. Store clerks were allowed to say “Merry Christmas” without the fear of offending anybody. And you could give to any charity without suspecting it had an ulterior motive.

And through all the parties, presents, and pastries, we always knew inwardly that Christ was the reason for the season. That’s one part of Christmas I hope we never loose.

Have a merry one.

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