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It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas

December 6, 2010

Finally – snow! Just a light dusting (unlike the poor sods in the ‘snow belt’ regions of Ontario who were inundated with over a foot of the fluffy stuff this weekend – with more expected to fall today) but when I look out the window, I see white.  And that means I can drag out my (minimalist) Christmas decorations and start getting into the holiday spirit.

I have always felt decidedly un-Christmas-y until the first snowfall.  The malls and downtown shopping areas might put up their lights and decorations and start playing carols in early November, but until I actually see those little crystal flakes falling gently from the sky, I just can’t get into the mood.  That is not to say that I don’t occasionally wander through the stores and pick up the odd gift (socks and underwear aren’t exactly ‘seasonal’) but I don’t FEEL like its Christmas until it LOOKS like its Christmas.  And that seems to be happening later and later each year (not that I want a TON of snow, but an inch or two by early December would certainly be helpful).

Punkinhead float; Eaton's parade 1953I know everyone hates ‘When I was little …’ stories but … when I was little there was always snow on the ground by my birthday (mid-November).  Around this same date, Eaton’s would host their annual ‘Santa Claus Parade’ in Toronto – signalling the official start of the Christmas season (the town where I grew up had a parade a week or two later, but it consisted mostly of local groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides sitting on flat-bed trucks wearing costumes and tossing candy into the crowds; compared to the elaborate floats and infamous upside-down clowns of the Toronto parade, it was pretty meagre!)

The night before the Toronto parade was also the night my mother would haul out the mantle decorations – artificial ‘snow’ (cotton batting), little houses with lights tucked in their backs, some miniature trees and animals, and – of course – Santa with his reindeer and sleigh full of gifts.  Those decorations were always in place when we’d sit down together – the whole family, with hot chocolate and homemade shortbread cookies – to watch the parade on TV the next day.  (Even though my mother – at 92 – now lives with my brother and his family, the mantle is still decorated with those same decorations – plus a few more – the day before the parade airs.)

Eaton's Window; 1958At the same time, the three big department stores in ‘The City’ (Eaton’s, Sears, Simpsons) would decorate their windows with elaborate Christmas displays; they would keep the themes secret and the giant windows covered until the ‘big reveal’ the day of the parade.  People would travel for miles just to look at them – and, of course, to do their Christmas shopping in the stores.  My mother would always take my sister (and later, my little brother) and me (by bus) to Toronto to see the windows, do some shopping, have lunch at the cafeteria in Simpson’s (a unique concept in those days) and – the highlight of the trip – to visit Santa in person so that we could ask for that ‘one special toy’ we hoped he would bring on Christmas morning. For a small fee (probably no more than fifty cents back then), you could get your picture taken with Santa, and one year you could even get a felt stocking with your name embroidered on it (I still use mine to this day!) 

Visiting Santa, 1959(NOTE: children wrote letters to Santa back then, but the only place where you could actually see him in person was in ‘Toyland’ at Eaton’s.  Outside of the ‘big cities’, there were no [enclosed] malls or department stores where different Santas could be found. To learn/see more on the Eaton’s parade, windows, Toyland, etc. check out the online archive kept by the Ontario Government.)

Shortly after our annual trip to Toronto, we would put up our Christmas tree and decorate it, stand our wooden snowman and Santa (that my oldest brother had made) outside in the snow, and hang lights along the eaves.  Pretty much everyone had outdoor lights of some type and it was common to take at least one evening to drive around town to look at the lights (particularly along Lakeshore Road where the bigger homes had more elaborate displays – although they were never gaudy or tasteless, as seems to be the trend nowadays).

Finding a tree, 1987Years (and years and years) have passed since I lived at home with my parents and took part these traditions.  When my own children were young, I adopted some of them (decorating the mantle the night before the Toronto parade, for example) and created new ones (hiking over hill and dale to find the ‘perfect’ tree and then driving home with the rear hatch open and a tree sticking out of it while we all froze to death inside).  My boys never had to travel to Toronto to see Santa (although we did take them in to see the parade ‘live’ once or twice, but the crowds and the freezing temperatures diminished the experience considerably), and most of our shopping has been done locally (but believe me when I say that Toys ‘R Us has NOTHING on the glory of the old ‘Toyland’ at Eaton’s!) 

The home I’m in now has no mantle (although the decorations are still in a box in the crawlspace) and with no children left at home to help decorate it, I don’t bother with a ‘real’ tree anymore (I have this nifty little fibre optic one that goes up and comes down in a matter of minutes).  Over the next week or so I will hang some ornaments from the curtain rods in the living and dining rooms, and this year I’ll dig out some of the older ones to hang along the railing in the front hall as well.  My rug-hooked Santa (my mother gave each of us a kit one year and it took the full year to finish) will once again take pride of place in the centre of the brick wall above the fireplace, and my Christmas music boxes and other items of particular sentimental value will adorn the coffee table.  There will be holiday stickers on the windows, evergreen scented candles in the main rooms, and red bows inside and out.

With luck, there will be a little more snow before mid-month to entice me to listen to my favourite holiday CDs while I wrap my gifts, and on Christmas Eve I will hang up the stockings (the boys left their stockings with me when they moved out; I assume they wanted to make sure Santa would continue to fill them with underwear, candy, and Lego sets), and anticipate the boys’ visit (with their respective girlfriends) on Christmas Day. 

As the years have passed, our family has changed, our traditions have adjusted, and some of our memories have faded or blurred.  But the one thing that will never change for me is my belief that Christmas is about the simple things in life – joy, laughter, wishes, delight, happiness, sharing, giving, receiving.  And a little snow to decorate it all – like frosting dusted on top of a cake – certainly helps to set the stage.  Christmas will always be a magical season for me, even though I’ve reached … the other side of 55.

Just a Little Snow

Just a Little Snow Before Christmas, Please

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