Old Fashioned Christmases

 Many of us will agree that Christmas, as it is celebrated today, is a highly commercialized event.  Today, many stores in larger centres start promoting their Christmas sales as early as the end of October.  Television and radio are constantly reminding us what we should give our wives and children, and what they should give us in return.  A major part of our Christmas purchases are applied on our credit cards, and come January when our Christmas bills start rolling in, we wonder how we allowed ourselves to get so carried away.

   Strangely, it wasn’t always this way.  Some of our older residents remember celebrating Christmas during the depression of the 1930s, a time when jobs and money were scarce - you found it hard enough to keep food on your table and to keep everyone properly clothed without thinking of additional spending during Christmas time.  For these reasons, Christmas day wasn’t much different than any other day.  In the early years, Christmas always seemed to sneak up on you; unlike today when you are constantly made aware that it is coming months in advance. Even though the times were tough in the 1930's, most families still celebrated Christmas with the traditional Christmas dinner, which usually consisted of a turkey or goose with all its trimmings, and the passing out of a few useful gifts.  Usually the boys in the family received a strongly made toy or two and the girls received a well-made doll.  They also received an item or two of useful clothing, such as a pair of wool mittens or a toque, which was usually knit by the mother or a close friend.  Compared to today, Christmas was a simple affair.

One thing I do recall during those early Christmases was the quality of toys on the market.  They were made of cast iron and heavy metal, and it seemed they never wore out.  Not like the toys of today that have a life expectancy of about ten days, before they are tossed into the garbage can.  The toys at that time were varied, inexpensive and consisted of toy banks, cars, trucks and animals, as well as soldiers.  The dolls at that time were well made and could be passed down from year to year.

Even though we weren’t swamped with Christmas presents, many of us still remember the Christmases of the past.  One I clearly recall was the Christmas of 1932.  The depression had already started and everyone seemed to be hard pressed for money - few could find additional funds needed at Christmas time.  For these reasons, many people found Christmas wasn’t a time for giving.  That year C.J. Markstad had an attractive display of key-wind toys in his window  and I recall making many visits just to view these toys, knowing that none of them would end up under our tree.

During these early years, artificial trees weren’t available, so we had to find a natural one.  I recall the many Christmases we tramped in the bush for hours  looking for the tree that was just right.  The many elaborate decorations known today were unavailable; however, we did have a number of clips that held burning candles.  It makes one shudder to think of the fire danger we were exposed to when we lit our tree.

I recall when Christmas cards sold for two for five cents.  These early cards were a real work of art and could be mailed to any part of Canada for one cent.  It seemed every household always received hundreds of cards; much different from today when expensive cards and the high cost of mailing them no doubt has  discouraged people from sending them.  I recently read of one couple who really kept their Christmas card expenses down.  For over 50 years they used the same card.  One year they would send it, and the next year they would get it back. People didn’t move around years ago during Christmas, like they do today.  There were only a few cars, and in most cases, the roads were closed because of the winter storms.  The visits they did make were usually made with horse-drawn sleighs and cutters.

   We didn’t have the many forms of entertainment known today, but somehow we still enjoyed those early Christmases.  A lot of our time was taken up by outdoor activities - skating, skiing, bobsledding on the steep hills or just playing hockey.

   Have a Happy Christmas.