Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Preparations

My thought patterns have been encountering 'dry periods' of late and I have been at a loss as to what to write about. Sometimes while I have been walking - or riding on the transit - I have had ideas but have not written them down. Later I have wondered what they were but could not remember.

As I was walking home this afternoon I encountered a man and his young daughter walking towards me - they were carrying parcels which caused me to remember an early 'preparation' for Christmas while I was still a child. If you have read my 'Neighbors' blogs you may recall my mention of the elderly couple - the Barletts - whom we lived next door to for a year or so. A week or so before Christmas they were making a trip into Vancouver and they invited Mom, Alda and I to come along.

Mr Bartlett drove an older car from the 1920s or early '30s - one that needed to be cranked for the motor to come alive - and that was what we rode in all the way into the city and back.

At that time (in Vancouver) there were three department stores to be found in the downtown area. At the corner of West Georgia and Granville Streets was the Hudson Bay Company outlet.  About six or eight blocks north and east was the David Spencer Department Store - later to be purchased by the Timothy Eaton chain - on Hastings Street West. Another six or so blocks east of Spencer's was the Woodward Department Store and we visited Santa Claus in each of those stores. Huh? How did Santa get from one store to the next before we did? I don't remember seeing a sleigh traveling through the air overhead!

Each store had a special item to grab the attention of the younger shoppers and the one which I remember the best was the 'Fish Pond' at David Spencer's. We were each given a pole with a hook on the end and the 'hook' was magnetized so that any of the metal items on the bottom of the pool could be 'caught'. All these years later I cannot remember what I 'won' - but both Alda and I won something!

Yesterday - as I observed preparations being carried out by others - I was put in mind of  Christmas preparations at home too and remembered how Alda and I became involved.

For the celebrations in our early years I do not remember any involvement on my part -  not until we had moved to Dawes Hill.  One Saturday afternoon in December 1943, Dad took Alda and I out shopping. We walked down to Maillardville and went to "Joe's Handy Store" which  was like a '5 and Dime'. Once in the store Dad stood still  in one spot while Alda and I browsed past the displays of goods in each of the aisles - but not in the company of each other.

Counting Dad and Mom, our maternal grandparents and each other, we had $2.00 each with which to purchase the five gifts. I remember my difficulty with Alda being nearby - how was I going to be able to buy a gift for her with her close by and - maybe - watching my every move? I  do not remember clearly what I bought for her but I believe that it was a box of cloth handkerchiefs.  I cannot remember at all what she bought for me!

Back home we went with Dad to where there were a number of young evergreen trees growing beside the fence and on the Crandell property. One was chosen, chopped down - and carried home. We were still too  young to do any of the decorating so that was left to Dad.

This is the tree in Alda's home in 100 Mile House, B.C. for Christmas 2005 - it is very similar to the one we had each Christmas while we were growing up. The woman in the photo is Alda's youngest - Karen.

In the meantime, Mom was baking. She made a couple of 'Christmas cakes' - how I love fruit cake! - and some cookies. Going by what we ate in later years, I would say that the two prime cookie recipes were shortbread and overnight cookies (so named as the dough was fashioned into loaves, covered by a damp tea towel, and left in a 'marinade'  until the next day when Mom sliced these loaves putting each slice on a cookie sheet and baking them in the oven).

As well as the cookie mixtures there were two large bowls filled to near the top with various dried fruit, flour and other ingredients. The contents of one of the bowls became Christmas cake and the other became Christmas pudding. When Dad was growing up in Ottawa that part of the family had a 'Christmas Pudding Eating  Contest' and - by over gorging on the pudding - he became ill so Mom never made a 'plum pudding' but a 'carrot pudding' instead which was served with a vanilla sauce. I loved it!

After being baked Mom would make an icing to cover some of the cakes. This icing was hard, tasted like almonds, and was white with the trimmings in green and red.

The Christmas turkey was stuffed with a dressing of Mom's own recipe and, as soon as she was up on Christmas morning she put 'the bird' into the oven so it would be ready for the dinner which was always in mid-afternoon and it was very rare indeed if the only people at the dinner table were solely members of our immediate family.

As soon as we kids were up we would 'have the tree' after which would come a breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast. As well as our maternal grandparents - who were usually with us (or we at their home) - there would be others at dinner time.

                                           Lacasse Family Christmas Dinner (ca 1958/59)

As we grew up gradually the Christmas tradition morphed somewhat and the gifts which we exchanged  became more sophisticated. That tradition continued until Dad died and Mom moved into a senior's complex. When Alda married Leo we would try to spend Christmas with them and our nieces and nephews. However, the menu for Christmas dinner remained the same as it did in Babs and Hubert's home.   

For these past few years I have enjoyed two Christmas dinners. The first is in the Social Hall at church - a potluck but with the usual turkey and vegetables - and the second at the condominium of a friend. This friend is of British descent and the dinner is always very English. What do I contribute to these dinners?

For the potluck at church I always bring the 'nibbles' which we enjoyed at home - cut celery with 'cheese whiz'  in the contour of the stem, olives and pickles.

For my friend's dinner I usually bring a box of chocolates. This year something special will be added - my favorite coffee shop now sells Belgian truffles and I will be taking a box of them with me!!