Coming from a family of seven children, it could get quite exciting during the Christmas season. Whispers of “what we hoped” Santa could bring us and giggles among my three brothers and three sisters kept us behaving ourselves, and that was not as easy as it seemed. Coal was the ultimate threat to keep us well behaved. And yes, as a joke, Dad and Mom gave the oldest of us kids coal one year. (We got presents too, but, that’s another story.)
My older brother Joey passed away nearly 40 years ago, and so we all remember the Livingstone Christmas family traditions for him. When I spoke to my brothers and sisters and asked what traditions they remember we all agreed it was the same each year.
And so, I’d like to take you back to a time in the mid-70s, when I was around 10 years old. We were not well off, a lot of kids and not enough money. Dad was in a serious race car accident when I was nearly two, so Mom had to work hard to help provide. As I grew older, I remember the days leading up to Christmas Eve.
My youngest sister Patty loved Christmas Eve. It was a celebration of family and friends that gathered at our home. Our door was always open. Lots of food and sweets. The number one favourite — crackers with Cheese Whiz — topped with shrimp or oysters, and block cheese with pepperoni.
Our eldest brothers Johnny and Joey and my younger brother Neil would go out in the deep woods behind our house to get a tree; it had to be the biggest, fattest tree they could find. With Mom’s final approval, it would stand proudly in the corner of our living room, anchored with rabbit snare wire to the paneling and standing in an apple juice can. When it stopped dripping of melted snow, we would decorate it — huge colorful lights with angel hair. Tinsel and ornaments from every Christmas before. And the final touch: an eight-pointed gold star that was so beautiful, rays of light danced across the ceiling. Johnny also added laying out our Christmas socks on the couch — not the fancy ones, but work socks. My older sister Lynn and I both remember what we got inside our sock every year: one apple, one orange, a handful of grapes, chocolates, and ribbon candy; we also got hard candy shaped like animals. Each treat was wrapped in waxed paper and twisted at the ends.
When Christmas Eve festivities came to the night’s end, we traditionally had little things we would do for our parents. It was my job to break the bread for dressing. Dad made the best turkey dressing ever. He would give each of us a little ball to taste. To this day, two of my sisters and one brother “think” they have mastered the art of Dad’s dressing. Well, I think not. My dressing is the best.
Finally, it was bedtime, the excitement grew. With tired eyes and bellies full of holiday treats we set out a snack for Santa, got dressed in our flannel nightclothes and off to bed to wait for the ‘Big Guy’s” arrival.
When Mom and Dad were asleep and we could hear them snoring, we would take turns peeking out into the living room several times throughout the night to see if Santa came. And sure enough, he did! We didn’t tell them, but somehow, we knew, they knew, we were sneaking a little peek.
Finally, it was Christmas morning. My younger sister Vida remembers Dad would get us to line up in the hallway, youngest to the oldest. He would plug in the tree lights, make a coffee for Mom as she sat in her chair, and then he would knock on the back door and pretend to ask Santa if it was OK if we could come out and see our Christmas gifts.
It was a tradition that each of us took turns opening one gift at a time so we would all see. Mom and Dad wanted us to know who gave us what so we could thank them. This taught us to appreciate the kindness of others and to feel their thoughtfulness.
After gifts were opened, we would call our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends and thank them and say Merry Christmas. After smelling the turkey in the oven cooking all night long, with bellies growling it was time for our Christmas dinner feast. Because Mom did all the shopping for gifts, groceries and decorating, Dad made Christmas dinner. And boy oh boy was it a feast! A delicious, golden turkey, mouth-watering dressing, mashed potatoes, carrots, turnips, cranberries and the best gravy you ever tasted, and for dessert pumpkin pie, or apple pie.
After dinner was over and the dishes were done, we would go and visit our grandparents.
Although I mentioned we were not rich by any means, we were rich in simple, family Christmas traditions. Traditions that are still in our family today.
Active Pictou County
When I was little, my mother told us that at midnight on Christmas Eve the animals could talk. Every year my sister and I would try to stay up until midnight to go to the barn and hear them. Somehow, I never made it. That was a long time ago. These days, my only animal is a fluffy sable Sheltie named Lachie. He is a sweet, beautiful soul, and the best friend of my sons. We all adore him. He gives hugs, tries to herd the neighborhood kids and does a jumping dance of joy every time we come back from being away, whether it’s been a day, or five minutes.
I’ve often wished I could talk to Lachie. His face is attentive, eyes bright and understanding. I was the holdout. The last one to finally agree to getting a dog. As often happens, I’m now a zealous convert, proselytizing others to join the cult of canine worship. I can’t believe how much I love that silly dog!
Though it’s many years since I was a kid dreaming of talking to farm animals, Christmas Eve still holds a magical feel. This is a strange night, of supernatural stories and faith in the unseen. The air fizzes with romance, secrets, surprise and adventure. If there could be a night for old legends to be real, this would be it.
If, by some stroke of Christmas magic we did chance to talk to Lachie, what would we say? In a few moments, how to articulate years of truest friendship? I suppose he would want to talk to the boys first. I’d guess he has a lot to say to them. Best friends do.
So, I’d stick to the important things:
“Good Boy! Thank you for loving and protecting us; for cuddling close when we’re sick, or sad, or stressed; for games of chase, and all the times you make us laugh, run and play! Please stop eating the socks, OK? We still love you though, even when you rip paper, and chew holes in things. We know its just a dog thing. We love you so very much!
Merry Christmas, sweet boy! Our hearts are yours forever.