I don’t think, however, that I’m a Grinch and so I thought I’d write a little of what Christmas was like more than a few years ago now, and bring back, perhaps, a few pleasant memories you the reader might have.
There were no artificial or store-bought trees, no lights, bells or ball and no shredded tinsel back then. The first indication that Christmas was in the air was our teacher announcing around the last week in November that we would be having a Christmas concert. That was enough in itself to make me giddy.
I loved to perform; even sing. The items that we presented would not be too heavy on Christmas; there might be a carol or a song like ‘Jingle Bells’, but, as I remember it, there would be dialogues, recitations, drills, and the like, with very little reference to the season. We would practise only after school, often by lamp-light, and do a final rehearsal in the Orange Hall the afternoon of the night of the presentation which would be as close to Christmas Eve as possible.
I mentioned that I liked to perform and usually had a part in a dialogue or two. I loved to ‘sing’ as well, but I have a memory of being asked by the teacher not to sing in “We’ll Rant and We’ll Roar” because I was singing in the wrong key. How about that? I used to wonder what that particular key was, or if I was the only person who knew about it. If Bert King is reading this, I can assure him, and I doubt if I need to, that he wasn’t singing in the wrong key!
But the main event in the community that I grew up in, Barr’d Islands, that signalled the coming of the Christmas season was when Earle’s Sons & Company decorated their store for Christmas.
It would be minimal by today’s standards. The first thing would be the removal of dry goods and the like, from their accustomed shelves, and then bordering them with crepe paper (only red and green) and filling the shelves with what we would call “Christmas Stuff’. It seemed a lot to us then, but what the store had for Christmas, was on the shelves. Although we all yearned for what was on display, there’d be no mad rush, and often some things remained on the shelves until Christmas Eve.
I can also remember the store being decorated with the same decorations year after year, nor were there any such for sale. We always associated apples with Christmas, and the smell of them permeated the store. ‘Barrel apples’ some of you reading this might remember. To this day the smell of apples is one thing I associate with Christmas. There would be a variety of candy, and there were some clerks who knew what the spirit of Christmas was, and was often a little generous. After Christmas the store would revert to the ‘all-day-sucker candy.’ Remember those?
As children we firmly believed in Santa Claus, or ‘Sandy’ Claus as I seem to recall now. I remember one year when we all wrote our letters to him, and after writing them, burning them in the stove. I suspect that we believed that the letters would be magically transported by the wind to the North Pole. But I do remember it being a little too final. There are some who contend that we are instilling in children a falsehood, but Dr. John Condry of Cornell University, interviewed 500 people on this very thing, and not a single person felt any negatives feelings, whatsoever, towards their parents for telling them there was a Santa Claus.
The Christmas tree would be cut just a few days before Christmas, and it almost seemed like sacrilege to put it up before Christmas Eve. In most houses the tree would be put up in the kitchen and would stay there until Old Christmas Day, which was Jan. 6.
My father always looked for a tree a little bare on one side, as he felt it fitted better in a corner. You can hardly dispute that!
The tree had to be fir, and I remember an incident where someone had cut down a spruce tree for Christmas, and it was causing some mirth. He must have been from the mainland!
The decorations were all homemade, but also any Christmas cards that we had received would be hung on the tree. I remember my father saying that when he was a boy there were no Christmas trees. That makes some sense to me. The Christmas tree did not become popular in England until well in the reign of Queen Victoria. It was during that time that many of our forefathers from England were migrating to Newfoundland, and the custom of Christmas trees had not yet been established in the far-flung colonies.
There would have been a midnight service in our church on Christmas Eve, but I don’t remember going to too many of these. I do remember one, my first one, and the church was decorated with evergreen boughs, and the fragrance being over-whelming. The coldness of the night must have made me think of the first Christmas.
Another memory: the service started at 11:30, PM, but the first carol was not sung until midnight, and I seem to remember that being Hark the Herald Angels Sing. (If Eliol Lewis was sitting next to me he would have nudged me and said, “Dodd’s kidney pills are just the thing!”). When the congregation had sung “Peace on earth and mercy mild”, he would have nudged me again and said, “Two for a man and one for a child!” We would have laughed, and my Aunt Marg would have tutted. Eliol Lewis would probably have nudged me again and say, “Marg just tutted ‘Jingle Bells’. If the parson had heard that he would have even laughed. Such was the good cheer of Christmas then. There would have been no plastic flowers anywhere in the church but the flower vases would have been filled with evergreen sprigs, as indeed they would be for the whole winter.
I am going to conclude this next week with some other memories of Christmas Day and the days leading up to Old Christmas Day. Meanwhile, I take this opportunity to wish you all a “Merry, Merry Christmas!”