Christmas and I go a long way a back. Back to when I was a child in London, Ontario. Long before television. Long before air travel became common. Back to a time when only wealthy people travelled very far. Ordinary folk in cold Canada stayed home to tend the furnace. My parents banked up the coals at night to keep heat coursing through the house.
We greeted winter and the first snowfall with joy. In London there was lots of snow and ice. No salting trucks spoiled our fun. Few cars dared the snowy streets. We kids made great long icy slides on the sidewalks. After a long run we’d land feet first on the ice and balancing like acrobats fly joyfully to the end.
Sometimes a crotchety old dame spread ashes on our slide. A sacrilege, never forgotten. On summer nights we’d ring her doorbell and run.
My mother was Scottish. Her mother lived with us. Two Scots in one house meant two Christmases for my brother and me. In Scotland, Christmas was more of a religious holiday. New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay, was the time to whoop it up. On Christmas Eve, we hung up our stockings as lovely pine scent from the freshly cut Christmas tree filled the house.
Harry, my brother, was eighteen months younger than I was. We were like twins, doing everything together. We managed to get into lots of trouble. My sister, Helen Edna, five years older, ignored us when she could.
One special Christmas Harry and I wakened at 4:30 am. It was pitch dark. We crept downstairs and turned on the living room light. Under the tree were our stockings stuffed with goodies. Unwrapped and shiny new, with my name on them – a pair of skates! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Harry had a new sled. I had to try on my skates. He had to try his sled.
Dressing to face a freezing dark winter morning in those days was not a quick and easy task. No natty snowsuits. First I had to put on long underwear, then a liberty bodice with suspenders. I had to wriggle into long ribbed cotton stockings and snap them to the liberty bodice.
Imagine if you will, trying to keep my long underwear tight around my ankles with one hand and peeling my stockings up over the underwear with the other. Girls in my day had strong characters. We learned patience and gained strength struggling against the gods who invented long underwear and cotton stockings.
Finally with my underwear rumpled under my stockings (I was in a hurry) I pulled on a sweater and a warm skirt. Harry was lucky he had woolen britches to wear over his long underwear. Girls did not wear pants as they do now)
I dragged on thick socks, headed for the back door and laced up my skates. Stars shone like diamonds in the still dark sky. Harry belly flopped on his sled and whizzed down the icy driveway. I skated after him, falling twice into snowbanks.
It was heaven. New skates. No present ever meant as much to me as my new skates. My first real skates.
On New Year’s Eve we hung up our stockings again, only this time at the end of our beds not at the downstairs fireplace. When we wakened to welcome a New Year our stockings lay bulging and enticing at the foot of our beds. They were filled with small toys, an orange and a bag of nuts.
It was a precious time to be a child.
Copyright 2013 Anita Birt