Christmas never came slowly to the old house on Avenue E. It didn’t come sneaking on a Christmas card morning, when the night-fresh snow shone sparkling silver in the early sun. It didn’t whisper Christmas carol cold on the prairie wind. It didn’t Santa Claus and reindeer jingle with merry little elves laughing like flutes in the faraway air. Christmas came, bold and fully clothed, directly to our door like a medieval merchant, thick with wonder. When the mailman brought the Sears Christmas Catalogue, he delivered unto us the loot of princes, and suddenly it was Christmas.
Heavenly hosts of handymen made Kenner skyscrapers high beyond reaching. Choirs of cowboys sang, Paladin brave with serious black holsters and two guns … that matched. Crybaby dolls for sisters (who hogged) while the drums of a thousand little plastic Indians attacked Fort Apache (some assembly required.) But all that was for later — dreamed and re-dreamed as the long/short winter days glaciered away.
First, Christmas was music; foot-pumped piano tunes practiced like Pavarotti, our oval mouths glor-or-or-ying like cherubim. Sweet as angels, we came upon a midnight clear like shepherds watching their flocks near the little town of Bethlehem. But not me: I was a king. A bath towel sheik with a dog-hair beard, I carried gold to the Savior so many times, so carefully, that I ripped my throat sick, with worry, and never sang again that season (or any other I can ever recall.) So it was the choirs I remember, church holy music that surged down the Eaton’s escalator, filling the Men’s Department full and spilling out into the street. And there were radio carols: Perry Como, Gene Autry, Brenda Lee and the inevitable Elvis — singing forever and again on CFQC. Or the television Christmases with Our Pet Juliette and Andy Williams and Harry Belafonte, who sang “Mary’s Boy Child” like a stained glass window. The great choirs of Vienna and Westminster glowed blue into our living room as we lay on the floor, chin-down on parkas between the oil burner and the dog. Their black and white RCA Victor voices sorrowed and sighed like celestial harps born to us once a year. But it was “Silent Night” that was really Christmas — and in our town, we could hear it in German.
And Christmas was decorations and cards. We coloured Santa Clauses and hand-drawn sleighs and made cross-cut Christmas trees that never stood still. We looped and glued and looped and glued miles of paper chains that hung from the windows and maybe the tree — next year. There were cards from everyone, painted with Christmases we’d never seen before. Lovely cottages trapped in the woods with bright lights and deep soft snow that was so white it was blue. Old-fashioned carolers with long scarves and top hats sang Christmas under streetlamps into someone else’s warm windows. Jolly flying Santa Clauses with (not enough) reindeer filled plump stockings hung by the chimney with crazy huge nails. Stacks of square presents with ribbons and bows tucked under perfect triangle trees. There were angels with trumpets and Wise Men and Bethlehem mangers too numerous to count. Once, two hands with wine glasses wished us all a Happy New Year, one holiday too soon. The tall sisters pinned the cards high on the curtains so we’d have room for the rest. There were always too many, and the leftovers stood crowding the tables like refugees waiting to get in. They would fall over at the slightest inconvenience, until finally they were folded and stacked. Every year, some cards would come late and lay orphaned in their envelopes ‘cause there was no room at the inn. And every year, on the last day of school mother would find the boxes, from no one knew where, that had the Christmas ornaments – the ones for the tree –because nothing was Christmas before there was a tree….
Friday: A Child’s Christmas in Saskatchewan Part 2