A Child’s Christmas
The week before Christmas holidays, our entire school at Ridgeway Elementary in North Vancouver would congregate in the school gym to sing Christmas carols, sitting cross legged on the gritty, cold floor, vaguely uncomfortable against my bare legs (skirts or dresses were mandatory). With lyrics gripped in our hands our collective child’s voice was thunderous. Our music teacher Mrs. Stephan was always cheerfully enthusiastic with her piano accompaniment. Bedecked in a flowered polyester dress, her curled grey hair trembled as her meaty arms banged out the carols on the old upright piano. I loved it.
I remember the miniature hair brush revealed in my Christmas Cracker one Christmas Eve dinner. I brushed Dad’s lamb chop sideburns, basking in my father’s attention, all of us held in the festive atmosphere and the excitement of the next day.
I remember spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day in our living room (the room we only lived in during special occasions) with its perfect blue carpet, the upholstered furniture cool and beautiful to the touch, the big bay window looking out to the expanse of Grand Boulevard. The fireplace was lit and the scent of wood smoke heightened the significance of the season. The Christmas decorations came out from the attic including the brass bells held together with ancient string. The bells were polished, hung and jingled until my parents couldn’t stand it anymore. These bells still come out every year to be polished, hung and rung. My Dad – a child at heart – had a soft spot for wind-up or battery-operated toys. We had several relics that came out of their boxes every year, batteries replaced if necessary and set to wiggle and pop on the coffee table, my Dad chuckling at the predictable mechanical moves.
I remember the relatives arriving in their Sunday best, Mom bringing out the silverware and the blue glass stemmed goblets the colour of the Mediterranean for the fancy Christmas cocktails. Mom’s staunch health food rituals were temporarily flung aside and my siblings and I slurped Orange Crush, sucked on candy canes, and reveled in Purdy’s chocolates.
I remember waking in the night, and scooting my toes down to the end of the bed until I could feel the weight of my Christmas stocking. (My parents bucked the fireplace mantle tradition.) I would open my stocking right then and there (delayed gratification deliciously unknown to me), bypassing the mandarin in the toe of the stocking to nibble the chocolate coins wrapped in gold. The taste of chocolate in the middle of the night – sheer childhood joy.
When we were older, Christmases moved from our North Vancouver home to Bowen Island and different traditions grew around the rustic setting that was King Edward Bay. Less formality, more lingering with roaring fires in the old river stone fireplace. The Christmas tree was collected from the surrounding forest with much ado, the entire family tromping out together to select the perfect specimen. With machete in hand, Dad chopped down the tree with theatrical flair while we belted out “Oh Christmas Tree”, none of us knowing all the words.
The Letson clan were staunch Christmas enthusiasts and although I’m sure there were bad times, I don’t remember any as a child. Just this collection of images, tastes and sounds that made for a very merry Christmas!