The Christmas I Remember

By Richard Wallace

Christmas, the way it used to be

was not like it is today.

The air was filled with magic.

There was lots of time to play.

Christmas TimeThere was time to dream. There was time to wonder about Christmas; there was time to hope. There was time to wonder about what gifts Santa would leave under the tree and how Santa knew it was just what a child was hoping for. There was time to wonder how he always got it right.  He did get it right most of the time.

There was time to come home from school with nothing more to think about than Christmas. There was time to go sledding on a nearby hill or to go skating on a pond or frozen swamp. It was fun to go skating among the frozen cat tails and bull rushes.

School was an exciting place to be at Christmas. I don’t remember a lot of school work being done but I guess there must have been some. It seems to me that most of our school day was spent getting ready for the Christmas concert. That was special.

There were Christmas songs to sing, poems to learn, plays and funny things to act out. One of the children would recite a long poem called a monologue.  Wow! A monologue took forever.

Parents and friends would gather at the school or the community hall to watch the children perform, there would be sandwiches, and everybody would have a good time.

Once school closed for the Christmas holidays we knew the wait was almost over.

There wasn’t any television in those days so we spent a lot of our time playing games and especially playing outside. Our boots were not as warm as boots are today and our feet would get so cold. I can remember sitting in the kitchen with my so cold feet soaking in a pan of warm water and tears running down my face. I guess it wasn’t so bad because a short time later I would go out and do it again.

Do you remember how our parents and grandparents would put saw dust banking around the outside of the houses to keep out the cold? I guess it must have worked but it sure wasn’t enough to keep Jack Frost from working his magic on the inside of the window panes. He made such beautiful designs from the frost that would be collected from the moisture of the house, moisture that froze and clung to the windows in the cold night air.

I remember watching horses as they went down the road. Sometimes it would be so cold that we would see great streams of breath blowing from their nostrils, streams of breath that reached almost to the ground. They would be pulling a sleigh filled with logs or firewood; sometimes hay, hay being taken from one farm to another. Children who lived in town didn’t get to see such sights and that’s too bad.

We listened to the radio a lot. Our parents would listen to songs sung by Bing Crosby, songs like Silent Night and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. I liked songs by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, I loved Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer..

Christmas was such an exciting time of year. The wind would blow the snow into huge drifts that blocked the roads, drifts that were so high they would almost come up to the tops of the telephone poles and we would try to touch the wires. They never did get quite high enough.

We loved it when the snow plow came through throwing the snow in all directions. Sometimes we would throw snow balls at the man in the plow and he must have been a very nice man because he would always laugh and wave. He knew we didn’t mean any harm.

When the plow came through in the middle of the night we could hear the soft drone of the engine from miles away and before long its lights would shine on the bedroom walls. It was really spooky, like in a movie. The lights would make a faint glow that got brighter and brighter and the roar from the plow would get louder and louder and then it would all fade away. It was nice and strangely comforting. It was as though somebody was looking after us in the middle of the night.

I remember once that somebody had to go to the hospital and a whole bunch of men were out in the road shoveling snow so the car could get through the snow drifts. Then they would follow the car and shovel away the next drift. It must have been serious.

When I think about all of this I think that people realized that they needed each other and it didn’t necessarily have a lot to do with actual friendship. People just needed each other.

At other times we would watch men cut huge blocks of ice from frozen ponds to be taken to store houses where they would be covered with sawdust to keep them from melting. They would be used during the summer months to keep the kitchen ‘ice chests’ cold. Not everybody had refrigerators in those days.

Getting the tree was a huge event and that was the sign that Christmas was almost here. Sometimes the whole family would go together and celebrate with hot chocolate and a bonfire. That was such a special time. Of course the tree would be perfect, well, not always. We would drag it home and let it dry out in the wood shed.

When it was dry we would bring it into the house and decorate it with bulbs and tinsel. We would put our few presents under the tree and just sit and look at it. We were struck by the wonder of it all. It was such a nice feeling.

When Christmas Eve finally arrived stockings were hung by the fire places, in those houses that had them, and for others they were left where Santa would be sure to find them. Going to sleep always took a little longer than usual, our heads filled with dreams and anticipation. We must have gone to sleep sooner or later because before we knew it we would wake up and it would be Christmas morning. Out to the tree we would go. Sometimes our parents would tell us it was too early and to go back to bed but sooner or later everybody would be up.

It was with great excitement we would unwrap our gifts, mittens, socks, colouring books and the like. Stockings had been miraculously filled with an apple, an orange, or hard candy and never the dreaded potato or lump of coal.

The day was spent with family, perhaps go to church, a turkey dinner and desert.

When we were children we didn’t think about how much time and effort our parents and grandparents put in to make each Christmas special. We didn’t think about money that had to be saved all year to buy a gift for each person, money saved twenty-five cents and fifty cents at a time. We were children.

We didn’t think about chores that had to be done, cows to be milked and animals to be looked after; all of this on Christmas morning and again at supper. We didn’t think about children who didn’t hang stockings and perhaps didn’t have a turkey dinner at the end of the day. We didn’t realize how much work it was for our mothers and grandmothers to get a huge meal ready in the middle of such activity. Now that we are older, we do.

When we were small, when we were children, it seems to me that folks didn’t have to make time for Christmas. Christmas was indeed a ‘Christmas time’.

Christmas, the way it used to be

was not like it is today.

The air was filled with magic.

There was lots of time to play.

Christmas and Santa

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3 replies »

  1. Nice one, Richard –
    “it seems to me that folks didn’t have to make time for Christmas. Christmas was indeed a ‘Christmas time’”.
    That’s it – some folk see it as all being some kind of terrible strain – interfering with their terribly important lives.
    There are all kinds of arguments and ways of looking at it, but, for one thing, without Christmas, that statuary holiday would disappear, as too many have – people need time off. And, I honestly believe that some people are a bit kinder and more thoughtful to each other at Christmas – I honestly do.
    There is hardship for those without – there is, but……there are a lot of good things about it, too. One of those things being …GOOD WILL! The hardship is there, it would be better if it wasn’t , but – laying misery on with a trowel, doesn’t help anyone.
    To me, your piece, spreads the good stuff, individual memories, yes, but………………..something joyous at a dark time, which is very much needed, just now.
    Nice one, Richard.
    I have to admit, I didn’t see the point in the misery in your ‘Doggerels of Christmas Past’ poem – we know those things are so – we know. I resisted the temptation to ask you , Why? Why look at life in that way? We know – we do what we can, we applaud those who can do more. There really are enough folk presenting us with the hard facts – and hard facts, do need to be presented. But………… goes ………………’Christmas’ – celebration at this time of year – started as a time to bring light into a dark time of the year – as the light physically returns, we celebrate that turning of time, of light, of life. At the moment, it does look like, if something major doesn’t happen, we might be heading for darker days – and, for some, for far too many, these day are dark enough. But…………misery, does nothing but bring everything, and everyone, down. The whole feel of life. I can’t be doing with it! As someone who has been in The Pit, and come out of it – I will fight negativity whenever/wherever I come across it.
    You have a great talent/ability – please use it for the positive, not the negative.
    Well, OK it’s up to you what you do with your ability, but……………..but………..but………..

    Wishing you, and everyone, a Cool Yule and a Nifty New Year.

  2. Hey Bernie, I love to get your comments and thank you for your kind words on the |Christmas I Remember. Those are special memories. We threw snowballs at the snow plow man,the spooky lights and the men shoveling drifts are real. |It was a different time.
    As for the Doggerels./..that is a tough one. I don’t care much for it but write it I did. It was inspired by my brother who was over the top smart but that doesn’t always work to ones favor. He chose to work in the woods, fish for herring in the north Pacific out of Prince Rupert in the winter time |(go figure that one out) and was happiest when living in the tough part (slums) of Vancouver. His opinion of Christmas speaks for itself. Like most we have had good years, some bad years and some that were in between.
    We had a wonderful Christmas at out place. Our kids (ages 49 & 50) their wives and some grandchildren, turkey and it was all that a Christmas should be. I hope yours was the same. I wish you all the best for the coming year. Thank you again for keeping in touch, Richard

  3. And hello Richard.
    I took off a bit, there – and then hoped that yourself, and Fiona, didn’t mind my ranting about the pointlessness of ‘misery’. It is a strong theme, with me, though.
    The man in the doorway, in your poem, is there all year. At Christmas, this strikes us as being particularly unfair, while most folk are having a good time, and, in fact, possibly over-indulging. But – also at Christmas, there are more places serving food to homeless people, or giving them shelter – there is more good will, all round. Charity, is a good thing, in that it does help – it’s a ‘band-aid’ – but, what I took off on, with Fiona’s piece, is that, as she rightly says, charity isn’t the answer – a fairer, more balanced society, is the answer.
    I’m repeating myself!
    In a nut shell – I really, really don’t see the point when folk lay on the misery – it’s there, it’s always there – so – take action, of you can. That’s my way of approaching it.
    Your brother? I think I get the idea.
    Here goes, again – I could be totally mistaken, as I’ve never met the man –
    We need time off work, we also need time off from…….thinking, being concerned, taking action. If we don’t take time off from that, we are in danger of burn-out. It can be the folk who think too much about it, who let it get to them, who go under – which serves no purpose. It is good to think, and to think of others, to think of what is wrong, and try to put it right. Nelson Mandela did that, but with a great sense of humour, through it all. Lightness is needed, as a way of being, to counteract the darkness. If you can manage it!

    Our Christmas day? – we went for a walk at the Birdy walk near the Ring of Brodgar, as mentioned here… sat and ate sandwiches and had tea with a dash of whisky, looking over to the Hoy Hills, in a beautiful light. A lovely day – peaceful still water on the lakes. Then home, to Jolly’s honey glazed smoked salmon and our own veg, and a peaceful evening. Time off, from everything! Much needed.
    Back to berating The Powers That Be – after the holidays.

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