The Christmas season is once again quickly drawing upon us. I can’t help but reminisce about the changes and meanings that have taken place over the past number of years.
I recall my past Christmases as a child on Pictou Island and all the excitement that lingered around we island kids during the months up to that special day. Very rarely would we ever get to shop for gifts in a department store. It was a thrill for us island kids to sail across to Pictou and look around in Stedman’s Five & Dime store. We instead would spend many hours leafing through the big Eaton’s and Simpson Sears Christmas catalogues. Those big books weighted at least 2 pounds apiece and were filled with many brightly colored pages. Those sheets contained everything that young or old alike would dream about someday having.
Preparations for the days leading up to Christmas was usually done by the children and supervised by our moms. Pictou Island girls were taught to cook and sew at a young age. Their tasks included washing the dishes after each meal, being on their hands and knees scrubbing kitchen floors, washing clothes, bed making, filling kerosene lamps, etc. We boys had chores also which included cutting and carrying in the firewood, caring for the barn animals and making sure that the woodbox was always filed. We would cut dry kindlings for starting the morning fires, carry in buckets of water from the outside wells for washing and bathing and often ran errands.
Most of our Christmas decorations were homemade but I remember having these real big enormous glass balls hanging from our Christmas tree branches. Mother with my sisters Rita and Rosemary would string colored ribbons from corner to corner in the living room and kitchen and hang silver tinsel along the ribbons. A large paper bell hung from the center of the living room ceiling. We had no lighting of any sort near our Christmas tree but usually had a candle sitting on the lower window ledges. I recall how most of the windows on cold nights would be all frosted over except for this one small hole where the heat from the candles would keep that part of the glass warm.
Every year for added winter warmth, my dad would gather eelgrass from the island shores and bank this all around our house. Now we kids never really expected an awful lot at Christmas time. I always knew however that Santa would answer my letter that I left outside under a board on the house banking. I never figured out if Santa read my little note before or after he had eaten the peanut butter sandwich that I had left for him.
Christmas mornings were something else. It would be around six O’clock when mother and dad would finally arise and fire up the kitchen stove. Once a little heat was evident, we kids would then bolt it for downstairs. The tree that dad had cut down from behind the barn sure looked pretty with all those presents placed under it. I remember getting a toboggan one year which was shared by the family. I recall getting building blocks and a little dozer that was powered by batteries. That was a great toy at least until the batteries died. Then I had to wait until I somehow obtained new ones from the mainland. Dad might get a much needed overcoat and new pair of gloves and Mom would get a new dress, scarf and slippers. I recall that Christmas when my brother Vincent received a new .22 caliber rifle from Santa. Vincent was probably then about 11or 12 years old and I recollect eating a lot of rabbit stew over that winter. Vincent sold me that rifle for $2 when I turned 11 years old. Rita and Rosemary would get their skipping ropes, sweater and stockings. We might get a new pair of skates that were often second hand but they were new to us.
Our spectacular Christmas dinner was prepared by mother with help from Rita & Rosemary. I believe that food was much cheaper during those earlier years. Every island family had a vegetable garden that they had planted over the summer days. Their vegetables were stored in their dug out basements over the winter months.
A small part of mom’s 1957 diary brings back to memory that Christmas when my father and Duncan Rankin went looking for their Christmas trees together. I’m assuming that they must have walked through the woods right to the north side of the island for they were gone for hours. Now I’m guessing that Duncan’s wife Verna was anxious to get her tree and decorations up. She apparently got tired waiting for Duncan’s return so she sent her son Cecil to chop down a Christmas tree. Now Cecil’s selection wasn’t all that bad. Verna had it decorated and ribbons hung throughout her kitchen and living room by supper time. Well it was just around dark when Duncan arrived home dragging his freshly cut tree behind him. It was getting fairly dark throughout the house when Duncan opened the door and proceeded on into the kitchen and into the living room with the tree in tow. Of course this tree was catching on all the ribbons and decorations all the way into the living room. The writings in mother’s diary ended here for that day so I can only speculate as to how Verna wished Duncan a Merry Christmas that evening.