Advent Calendar – Christmas at School

When I was in school we always had a Christmas pageant. Each grade would present their rendition of something with a Christmas theme. Mums would spend the weeks up to the pageant making costumes for their children. It was held on a weekday evening in the gym and all the parents would be seated on the hard wooden chairs. Dads would be lined up along the back wall of the gym because they were delayed at work and late getting to the show.

I was in the choir so we opened and closed the pageant. One year my brother’s grade did the twelve days of Christmas and he was the partridge in the pear tree. There were the usual suspects of Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer being reenacted on stage.

A teacher would sometimes have to step in as an under study because someone was crying in the dressing room and would not go on stage. There was also the child who was a natural on stage and did not want to leave it.

We had worked on the pageant for nearly a month before the performance. This was our big night to show our parents what we had been doing. There was only one performance. They were always fun and you could hear the parents laughing at the antics on stage. These days the antics on stage show up on America’s Funniest Videos.
©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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Advent Calendar – Holiday Happenings

The most memorable Christmas for me is the year my niece was born. My sister in law went into hospital a few days before the holidays. She was near the end of her second trimester and having difficulty with her pregnancy. My nephew, who was two at the time, stayed with my parents.

We worked hard to make it a nice Christmas for him. On Christmas Eve my parents, brother, nephew and I slept under the same roof. We were up early and opened presents with my nephew. Thomas the tank engine was at his height so we had lots of trains rolling down the tracks in the middle of the livingroom.

My Aunt had invited us to her place in Toronto for dinner so we left around mid afternoon and traveled in convoy. We enjoyed the afternoon with my Grandmother and my Aunt. My nephew was getting tired so we headed home. My brother had driven on ahead to get my nephew into bed. When we arrived home he was walking out the door having heard from his wife. It seems my niece was not waiting until St. Patrick’s Day to be born.

She was born on Boxing Day. I remember my mother waking me up in the wee hours of the morning saying I had a niece and that all were doing well. She had to stay in hospital for a few months but she steadily gained weight and strength.

Today she is a strong and healthy girl who is a very talented figure skater.
©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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Advent Calendar – Holiday Travel

When I think of holiday travel I think of the three times our family went to Ireland to spend Christmas with my mother’s family.

The first time we went to Ireland was in 1962. My mother traveled over with us and my father followed. I remember my mother telling me that my Grandparents drove down to Shannon airport to meet us and she handed my brother and me to them while she went to find the luggage. Those were the days when a velvet cable would separate people arriving from the people meeting them. This was the first time I had seen my Grandfather. My Grandmother had come over for my first birthday. It was the first time they had seen my brother.

Suddenly I was introduced to three generations of aunts, uncles and cousins. My mother was the only one from her family who left Ireland. On Christmas Eve at the party my Grandparents gave every year I wore a white fluffy shrug and a light blue velvet dress. I know this because my uncle was very much into photography and I have a picture.

We next traveled to Ireland for Christmas in 1978 and by this time the family had really grown. All my mother’s siblings had married and had children. I was the eldest of twelve grandchildren. There was laughter around the Christmas table when I said to my Grandparents “see what you are responsible for.”

This was the first time we had gone to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to hear the caroling service on Christmas Eve. My parents, brother and I went to the service. St. Patrick’s is an ancient cathedral and there were flags hanging from the ceiling. The acoustics of the organ and the voices of the choir in the cathedral were angelic. There were fresh garlands and decorations which included candles all around St. Patrick’s. Just being in St. Patrick’s on a night like Christmas Eve with the music and the sound of all those voices, the simplistic decorations and peaceful feelings is what Christmas is all about.

We went to Christ Church to ring in the new year. My Grandparents had gone to bed by the time we got home. It was cold and the house was dark. We went into the kitchen which was always toasty warm because my Grandmother had an Aga. We got a drink and then quietly went up to bed cuddling down into our beds with the thick feather filled duvets on top of us. My room was special because the ceiling had been covered in dark navy blue wallpaper that had stars on it so I could stare up at the stars at night before I went to sleep.

The last Christmas I spent in Dublin was in 1988. The family was going through the next set of changes as the grandchildren were now getting married and having children. This was the first Christmas I had been in Dublin since the death of both my Grandparents. So this trip for me included a visit to Deansgrange Cemetery to pay my respects.

Since we could not stay with any of my mother’s siblings because all their children and partners had come home, we stayed at the home of a cousin of my mother’s. She and her family had gone away for Christmas. This was exciting for me as the house was on the same street as the home of Chris DeBurgh the singer. I saw him walking down the street with his family.

1988 was the millennium celebration for the city of Dublin so my uncle decided to hold a millennium party on New Year’s Eve. It was an intimate family gathering for about fifty. The party was a formal affair and my father got his tuxedo out that he used to wear to formal functions when he attended Trinity College. It still fit and just needed to be cleaned.

We traveled on a dark night up into the Wicklow mountains to where my uncle and his family lived. It was dark and cold but as soon as we walked into the house it was warm and welcoming. There was a large Yule log in the fireplace. Everyone brought a little something for the dinner.

There were prizes for the youngest member of the family (the son of a cousin who was born that year), the one who travelled the farthest (a cousin who had come home from Australia) and the oldest (the husband of my grandfather’s sister). One grand uncle had written a poem and a few plays that had been written by my grandfather and great grandfather were performed.

A cousin, who is a professional photographer, took pictures of all the family groups that were at the party as well as one large group shot. These were put in an album and he gave a copy to each family group.

I have one treasure from this magical night. I put a white bed sheet on the dining table after dinner and had everyone sign it in pencil. Then I embroidered everything they put on the sheet. People got really creative and did doodles, drew pictures, wrote poems and funny sayings. It still makes me smile when I look at it today.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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Advent Calendar – Charitable/Volunteer Work

Our church had White Sunday where parcels were wrapped in white paper and brought to the church. When my mother was a child these parcels were gifts for children. You had to write the gender and age of the child on the outside. Sometime in my childhood they changed it to imperishable food stuffs. They were then disbursed throughout the community for people in need.

My mother and I were involved in church Christmas Bazaars which made money for local charities and families in need. One year a family was adopted by the church and all money raised helped them to have a warm and happy Christmas.

In my family the Salvation Army, or Sally Anne as we call them, has always been a Christmas charity. We always leave donations in the collection pots and send donations at the beginning of December.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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Advent Christmas – Other Traditions

My father told me that his Scottish family never really celebrated Christmas until the twentieth century. Hogmanay or New Year Day was their big celebration.

My Grandmother would go all out for Hogmanay. The house had to be cleaned from top to bottom so that you had a clean house for the New Year. I still hold to this tradition.

I remember many New Year Day parties. There was a buffet and in the early years a poached salmon was the centre piece of the table. Grandpa had a special taste for smoked oysters so they were included as well. These parties started out large and included friends and family. When my Grandpa retired the parties became a smaller family gathering.

My Grandmother would meet the first visitor to the house in the New Year at the door. The first person over the doorstep in the New Year had to be a gentleman who had dark hair but before he could come in he would be handed a piece of coal, a potato and an oatcake. These were handed back to my Grandmother when he entered the house. The dark hair gentleman brought good luck, the coal warmth, the potato and oatcake food and abundance. I can remember people standing on the door step waiting for a dark haired gentleman so that we could go in the house. It was a strict rule.

In the 1940s my Grandmother’s father visited at New Year and brought them a piece of coal. This was the piece of coal that was handed to the first male entering the house for over 50 Hogmanay celebrations. When my Grandmother left her home in the late 1990s to move in with my Aunt she was insistent that the piece of coal go with her and not be packed up in a box.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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Advent Calendar – Christmas Gifts

My favourite Christmas gift to give is my baked goods. They always seem to get a good reception. It started small with cookies and then moved on to chocolates of all kinds.

One year Christmas cakes were the gift of choice. They were covered with marzipan and rolled fondant with decorations on top. Some of the decorations were made with fondant and some were plastic. Another year it was gingerbread houses with the insides filled with chocolates.

My Irish Grandmother gave me two pieces of Royal Doulton called “The Bride” and “The Bridesmaid.” They had been given them as a wedding present and hold special memories.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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Advent Calendar – Christmas and the Family Pets

In our family the pets were as much a part of Christmas as the people. It would not have been the holidays without them. They added so much laughter to the day.

Rusty was our first dog. He was a liver coloured Cocker Spaniel. It was my first Christmas and my Grandmother gave him to my parents as a gift. He was hiding behind the Christmas tree and came out with a bloodied nose. He had got into a little tussle with one of my Grandmother’s dogs. Rusty was a major factor in our lives for sixteen years.

Cats were also a part of our family. Charlie was the first one to spend Christmas with us and he enjoyed rooting in the mounds of papers and boxes after the parcels had all been opened.

Boris and Natasha preferred the presents before they were opened. Playing with the curly ribbon and bows was great fun.

Tabitha could never wait for her presents and always went snooping.

The cats were always quiet after they had received their Christmas catnip toy.

My Cockatiel Percy liked to usurp the dove on the top of the tree and sit there himself. He spent hours on top of that tree.

The one who enjoyed the holidays the most was George our Golden Retriever. The holidays started for George as soon as the decorations came out. There were a set of hand held bells that had broken and he picked them up and went prancing around the house bells jingling. We tied them around his neck with a little string and he wore them every day until Christmas. My parents took them off at night so we could sleep. If George decided he needed to scratch they made a lovely jingling noise. He would go looking for them to be put on again in the morning. This happened every year and he eventually started digging in the boxes if we did not find them quickly enough for him. George loved his bells.

There was always a present under the tree for George and he was the first one to open a present every Christmas. It was a very large rawhide bone and he would tear the wrapping paper off and then the packaging to get to the bone. He then sat quietly and chewed this lovely bone while we opened our presents.

The bone would not be abandoned until my father went to carve the turkey. It was very important that George be at the carving of the bird in case any little bits should be forthcoming – they always were.
©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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Advent Calendar – Christmas Cookies

Christmas baking is a tradition in our family. We not only made cookies but plum pudding and Christmas cake. I remember standing on a stool in the kitchen helping my mother do the baking; at least I thought I was helping.

One cookie that stands out is shortbread. Mum would make a big batch and put the dough in a 9×13 pan. She would score the top with the back of a fork for decoration and use a knife to put in the lines to cut the cookies when they came out of the oven. Then a dusting of sugar was put on top.

I remember stirring the Christmas pudding and making a wish. It was made early because it had to be put in the pantry and then ‘fed’ on a regular basis, the same with the Christmas cake.

About thirty years ago I took on the tradition of Christmas baking. The Christmas pudding and cakes are not made these days as people are eating relatively lighter fair. When I lived at home my Dad looked forward to the baking session as I always presented him with the cookies and chocolates that broke. He said he missed that when I moved out.

I have just finished my Christmas baking for this year and have made seven different kinds of cookies, four kinds of bars and twenty five dozen chocolate truffles of varying flavours.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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Advent Calendar – Holiday Parties

Our main holiday party was Christmas Day. When I was a child we would see my mother’s cousin’s family on Boxing Day. We would alternate each year as to whose house we went to visit.

When I was a teenager my Aunt held an open house every year in her tiny apartment near The Beaches in Toronto. It was a snug fit but it was fun. She is a very good cook and the nibbles table was always full of new and tasty delights.

In Ireland my mother’s parents held an open house on Christmas Day. The family would have their Christmas meal at lunch and then a huge tea was laid out and all the friends and family would come over to share a nibble and a warm cup of tea or something stronger.

They changed the party to Christmas Eve some time after my mother moved to Canada. Nibbles, a cup of cheer and good friends were all that were needed. There were people greeting each other with big smiles and good conversation all around. My main memory of those parties is the laughter.
©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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Advent Calendar – Santa Claus

When my mother was a child they wrote their letters to Santa and put them outside on the window sill with a stone on top. They were told the Christmas Robin would pick them up and take them to Santa. The children would stand transfixed to the window until they were called away to come and help with something. When they returned the letters were gone.

The experience for my brother and me was slightly different. As soon as the Sears Christmas Wish Book came through the door the list was made for Santa.

Going to visit Santa was a Christmas tradition. We went into Toronto to see Santa at the department store. We would go in on the train and meet my father. The next stop was Santa. We were dressed in our very best clothes and had our picture taken. This was an important picture as it was sent to both sets of Grandparents every year.

After our pictures were taken and we had gotten our candy canes from Santa we were allowed to buy one very small toy in the toy department. Then it was off to a restaurant called Diana Sweet’s for dinner.

When we were finished with dinner we walked to Eaton’s and Simpson’s department stores to look at the windows that were specially decorated for Christmas. It was dark and cold outside and the windows were alive with animatronics, lights, colour and activity; Santa’s workshop, a family around the Christmas dinner table, a mother doing her Christmas baking, families doing their holiday shopping, children playing in the snow. These windows were a wonder to behold for a small child.

There were vendors with red and yellow carts that had freshly popped popcorn and roasted chestnuts for sale. They also sold a variety of colourful suckers. We were allowed to have one item from the cart.

Then it was time to drive home. We were tired but still watched the lights of the billboards and advertisements flash by us on the highway leaving Toronto. These are some of my fondest memories of Christmas. It was my family enjoying a special time together that did not cost a lot of money but created fun, laughter and memories.

I believe in the spirit of Santa and the joy that he brings to children around the world at this time of year.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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