Advent Theme

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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

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

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

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

My Scottish ancestors did not really celebrate Christmas until the twentieth century and then it was for the children. My Irish ancestors celebrated Christmas quietly. As a result decorating the outside of the house was not something that my ancestors did.

When I was a child my grandmother decorated the outside of her house with big snowmen and candles that lit up inside. These were put on the upper balcony or sometimes on the patio on the first level. She did not decorate the outside of her home until she moved to Canada. This was a North American tradition that was done for the grandchildren.

It was not until we got a house that my parents started putting up outside lights. It was the usual string around the eaves and maybe some around a bush. At one point they gave up the stringed lights and used spot lights which were red and green. If we got a lot of snow around Christmas they stayed in place until the spring thaw. Now there are white lights on bushes and an evergreen decoration on the wall next to the front door. The urns out the front are filled with greenery, red sticks, pine cones and a large glass ball.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

Most of our family lived in Ireland, Scotland and England so Christmas cards were the main way of keeping up with everyone. My mother is one of twenty one first cousins and this was the only time during the year that they would communicate, unless of course there was a birth, marriage or death.

The cards would be placed on the mantel over the fireplace in the living room.

Some cards held handwritten letters telling of the families activities during the year. It could be a small note on a card or several sheets of blue air mail paper. Sometimes a picture would be included to show the latest member of the family. This now includes pictures of grandchildren.

Mum would start her card writing early in December especially if letters were to be included. You had to have them in the post by a certain date to guarantee that they would arrive before Christmas.

Everyday when we got home one of the first things we did was to check the Christmas cards to see whose had arrived and what news they held.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

Our Christmas tree ornaments were the usual lights and colourful balls.

The special ones were those my parents bought for their first tree. Over the years most of the glass ornaments have broken but I have the precious few that are still left.

There were the Santa heads with the cotton beards and the small chocolates and candy canes that were hung on the tree. It was the mission of my brother and me to sneak the odd chocolate off the tree and see if my mother would notice. She always did.
©2010 – Blair Archival Research

When we were in Dublin Ireland for Christmas the main event was the Limerick ham that was sent to my Grandparents from my Grandpa’s Aunt Girlie. There is nothing like a Limerick ham.

Another Irish tradition was the spiced beef. This was a particular favourite of my Grandpa’s and I enjoyed it as well. I found a recipe so that I could make it here and eventually found one shop in the area that made it for the holidays.

Our Christmas dinner was the usual roast turkey and ham. We had mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts and turnips and sometimes carrots. My mother made the best sage, onion and sausage stuffing.

Dessert was a plum pudding with the coins wrapped in foil and stuck inside for us to find. Around the base of the pudding holly branches were put on for decoration. The pudding was set aflame and the lights turned out as it was presented to the table. Pouring custard was served on the side.

Over the years things have changed. Now our Christmas dinner consists of roast beef with brussel sprouts, turnip and roast potatoes. Dessert is always something different.

The dinner table was always dressed with Christmas napkins, crackers and candles. Just before dessert is served the crackers are pulled and everyone puts on those silly paper hats. How many of you have a Christmas photograph with people wearing those colourful paper hats?

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

When I was a small child our Christmas trees were always real. The smell in the house was wonderfully warming.

In the 1970s when the artificial Christmas trees really became the rage we got one.

Whether the tree was real or artificial the ornaments were the same. We had some lovely ones that my parents had bought for their first tree in 1959. I have the few surviving ones for my own tree.

Putting up the tree each year was a ritual. It went up the second weekend of December and my father would put on the lights. Then it was our turn to put on the decorations. The final items on the tree were the candy canes and small hollow chocolates in the shape of Santa, pine cones, angels and Christmas trees. The presents were not put under the tree until Christmas Eve.

The tree was always taken down by the 6th of January.
©2010 – Blair Archival Research

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