A Christmas Tale

Work in Progress By Ivan Morgan

As Christmas starts earlier every year, why not have a Christmas column in the middle of November?

There was a racket on social media recently about when is an appropriate time to put up decorations. Some said it was disrespectful to put them up before Remembrance Day. Others said not before December 1. Someone else weighed in about the true meaning of Christmas (whatever that ever was).

There are no Christmas rules, or Christmas police to enforce them (except for self-appointed social media enforcers). Want to put lights up in October? Wicked. Your tree up the first week of November? Fill your boots.

When I was a wee one in the 1960s my family put our tree up Christmas Eve. That’s because it was a real tree (a tradition I keep to this day) and would not survive two months in the living room. My kids were horrified at the idea and there was always a battle of when to put up the tree. 

Modern Christmas is a festival of anticipation. Weeks and months of anticipation. The actual day and the “12 Days” are a bit of a letdown for many. I was looking at advent calendars for sale and wondering why there are only 24 days? Why not one hundred?

Christmas changes, evolves, and adapts. My childhood Christmas is not the holiday of today. And that’s okay. You will always find someone complaining Christmas isn’t what it used to be, and they’re right. Modern Christmas traditions may not be to everyone’s liking, but obviously someone likes them.

Allow me to share a Christmas memory that I think underscores my point.

On a dark cold November afternoon years ago, my two youngest daughters (at the time 6 and 9) were in my office on Water Street when an old buddy dropped by. His name was Al Clouston, and for those who don’t remember him, he was a humourist, and a writer. His books of stories and jokes were once bestsellers in the province, but he is now all but forgotten. Al, who at the time was well into his eighties, would occasionally stop by my office for a yarn and a laugh.

That afternoon I introduced him to my children, who told him they were very excited for Christmas. Al took them aside and told them of Christmas long ago, when he was a small boy during the First World War. He spoke of his family who were not poor, but like many at the time, had to make do with little. There was no radio, TV, phones or, for the Clouston family, electricity. It was a very different time, he explained, but everyone loved Christmas, and everyone looked forward to Christmas just like they do today. 

One of my daughters asked him if Santa Claus visited back then. Yes, said Al, but they called him Father Christmas. “We tried to be good to make sure Father Christmas would fill our stockings,” Al told them. They hung their stockings at the edge of their bed, he said, and were often so excited they couldn’t sleep.

But they did, and when they awoke Christmas morning, they would jump out of bed, and dig into their stockings. Al told them of the little wooden toys they found, and how, at the toe of the stocking, would be a big, ripe orange!

Al was great with the kids. They listened quietly and I was happy to see they were getting memories from Christmases long past. When he was done, he bid his goodbyes, and as he was going out the door turned to tell me how much he had enjoyed my children.

Soon we packed up to head home. In the car, at a red light, my youngest daughter turned to look at me, her little moon face the picture of thoughtful seriousness only a six year old can muster.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Sweetie?”

“Christmas back then really sucked.”

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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