December 24, 1998 Halifax Herald

Christmases past: a trip down memory lane

The arrival of the Christmas season puts most folks in a mood to celebrate with good cheer. They, as the holiday nears, empty store shelves with purchases of gifts for family and friends, and prepare loads of great food. All the abundance and glitter which surrounds the celebration brings home how fortunate most Canadians are.

But the majority's affluence tends to obscure the fact that there are many poor Canadians who cannot spend lavishly preparing for the holidays. Sadly, some of these good people turn bitter because they believe that money is a must for a happy Christmas. However, those who haven't got loads of cash should not pine for what they haven't got; lavish spending is not a requisite for having a memorable Christmas, nor for happiness. With this in mind, I invite you to travel down memory lane with me.

Shortly after my birth in a small log cabin, our family moved into an uninsulated home that was barren of modern conveniences. Indoor toilets, water, central heating, electricity, etc., were things to dream about; in far to many instances, so were adequate food and clothing. However, despite living conditions which bespoke Third World poverty, it was mostly a happy life.

And, despite our material poverty, we were wealthy in many ways. One important blessing was that we did not live a life filled with rancour because of our lot in life. Neither of our parents complained or rightly laid the blame for our lack of material goods upon the doorstep of Canada's racist society. Even if they had and had spoken out against it, in those days of open racism, their only reward would have been humiliation. Thus, their attitude was to make the best of what they had and thank the Great Spirit for it.

It was in this spirit that our Christmases were celebrated. When material things were sparser than normal, it didn't take away from the enjoyment of the holiday - we appreciated what we had. I remember times when a stuffed porcupine, rabbit or deer meat was the holiday fare; roast ham, beef or pork were rare treats, and turkey was for the rich. Our toys and gifts of clothing were sometimes new, but used or homemade items were more the norm. However, even in the sparest years, Mom managed to make her fabulous Christmas pudding, which was a much anticipated treat.

One year, things were so bad that we were told that Santa had got lost and would not come until January 6, old Christmas. By then, our parents had managed to come up with a few things and the holiday was duly celebrated. That may have been the year when Santa brought me a home made wooden gun, which was made by my father.

With the arrival of family allowances in the late 1940s, a wider variety of goods was found under our tree and, as we were then raising a few chickens and ducks, one or the other graced our holiday table. Also, around 1948, in recognition of my advancing years (10), the responsibility for getting a tree and dispatching the selected bird had passed to me. Bringing home the tree was no problem, but dispatching the bird was not a favourite pastimes.

Shortly after turning fifteen in1953, I went to live in the United States, spending seven years there. American lavish holiday expenditures amazed me. Food, goodies, gifts and toys galore! Wow! Not in my wildest dreams had I ever envisioned such abundance!

I experienced first-hand the fruits of such abundance by spending my first American Christmas with my cousin Jean's family. Relatives, friends and neighbours came around on Christmas Eve and joined in carol singing - a family of Jewish friends were by far the best singers. The Polish ham they had for dinner - Jean's husband Charlie was of Polish heritage - was indescribably delicious! Another thing I remember was that my cousins had bought their two boys drums and horns; the noise level that day was of sonic-boom proportions.

In due course, I returned home, eventually got married, and began to celebrate the holidays with a family of my own. Many memorable Christmases have since passed. I'll give a short review of one:

Pat and I had put our two girls to bed and were passing the evening by listening to Christmas music and having a bit of Christmas cheer. Around midnight, we decided it was time to put the toys under the tree and retire. For Lenore, our oldest, we had purchased a doll carriage. Presuming the manufacturer had assembled most of it, I had left it unopened. After hauling the box into the rec-room and opening it, I received a shock. There lying before me was at least a million pieces. Finally, at ten to five in the morning, it was assembled. I then dragged my weary bones off to bed.

After turning off the light and getting comfortable, we heard two excited voices : "Daddy, Mommy, can we get up and see what Santa brought? Ah, the burden of fatherhood - half-dead, up and at it!

The moral of my story is: If on Christmas morning, you rise with the knowledge that you are loved and can return that love; and if you will not harp on life's negatives, but count your blessings and thank the Great Spirit for them - you are wealthy. My Christmases, sparse or plenty, are remembered with the same affection. Money is secondary; happiness with family and friends can be had without it.

Good Cheer!

Daniel N. Paul


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