Christmas was magical for me in our farm family of three girls and one younger boy in Elgin. There wasn't much money for treats and presents that weren’t necessary back then in the 40s. My parents had experienced the Great Depression. I remember the outhouse and having no running water or bathroom. I remember the excitement of getting a bathtub...who would be the first to have a bath? We girls really appreciated what we received! We knew that things did not come easy and that our parents sacrificed for us.
Grocery shopping for Christmas was a very special time with an air of excitement and anticipation. The village store was crowded with our neighbours buying special treats and splurging on items we usually couldn't afford. The owner of the store we went to, Mr. Geldart, even advertised with a hand-made flyer. Back then we had a choice of which store to support. Unfortunately, today there is no choice: we have to drive to Moncton or Sussex.
Living on a farm with a woodlot enabled our father to cut our Christmas tree in our own forest. It was exciting to watch him coming through the pasture with it in tow. It wasn't well-shaped like the ones we buy nowadays but it reached up to our 10-foot living room ceiling. It smelled so grand and had lots of branches to decorate! It was always decorated on Christmas Eve by our mother and us three girls.
We decorated the house with curled paper streamers and strings of Christmas cards from friends and relatives. Mom sent many cards, always a letter inside. Decorations on the tree were ornaments which were mostly breakable, electric lights shaped like candles that bubbled when they got hot (fascinating for us!). We hated it when an ornament fell and broke! Some ornaments were old and handed down from Dad's family. My favourite were shiny metallic birds with tail ‘feathers’ made of shiny ‘threads.’ Who else remembers those? There were strands of silver and colored tinsel, and the finishing touch was icicles! Our mother didn't have much patience with those so that job fell to me. I still use them on my tree because I love how they shimmer. A star was on the top of the tree.
When we finished the tree and hung our stockings (Dad's hand-knitted wool socks) on the back of the living room chairs with string, the living room door was closed. We put out our letters to Santa with home-made cookies and milk and went to bed. Later our parents put the gifts under the tree. For a few years, our mother would hide our so-called "main present." It was fun looking for it. Of course, the "lunch" was gone in the morning and sometimes replaced with a thank-you note!
There was no peeking into that room in the morning until our father came up from the barn after doing the chores and we then had our usual breakfast of oatmeal. It was hard to wait but, afterwards, the lights, presents, decorations and stockings were such a special sight. The stockings always had an orange (a treat in those days) in the toe, along with nuts and candy. Wool fibres from the stocking were stuck to the hard candy and ribbon candy. Lifesavers in little fold-out boxes were also common.
For our Christmas meal, we always had turkey, lots of home-grown vegetables, preserves of pickles and beets, pies, sweet breads and other desserts. Our mother always made fudge, which some said was the best in Elgin! My favourite pie was homemade mincemeat. It was kept in a roast pan out in the cold verandah because we didn't have a refrigerator. For Christmas, we three girls each made a special treat; mine was a cherry nut loaf.
Another special event was the school Christmas concert, when each of us girls would get a new dress. We spent many hours looking in the Eaton’s catalogue for that dress. One year, the parcel was late and my mother had to make special arrangements with the postmaster on the day of the concert to get my sister dressed and over to the church in time. Good thing it wasn't backordered and that it fit!
At the Baptist Church where our family attended, Mrs. Collier's class performed a pantomime to the strains of Silent Night, Holy Night. We were dressed as angels in long white gowns decorated with tinsel and a halo. Another class sang the words and we acted out the words. They used a spotlight and we felt very special!
Our tree stayed up until the middle of January. We could not use anything from under that tree until that day! How frustrating since we wanted to show off our special gifts like everyone else at school. By mid-January, a lot of the Christmas excitement had worn off!
My mother, sisters and I visited our neighbours a few days after Christmas. The lady of the house would pull everything out from under the tree and say, "This came from so and so, and this is for so and so." Naturally, we would get a treat of candy or cookies at each home.
Our mother was a very busy person especially at Christmas time and I have so many memories of family times. Today it seems there is too much emphasis on "getting" and not enough on sharing. What are your memories?
If you would like to contact Idella, you can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Kat Hallett.