Friday, December 22, 2006

3 Days until Christmas

The Ghost of Christmas Past

On a shelf at my parents' house sit a bunch of dusty old photo albums, filled with pictures of our family back in the early 80s, with my parents looking younger and my brother and I looking a lot smaller. We lived in the same house on the same street for my entire childhood - in a small town in Northern Ontario, where all 3500 people seemed to know each other. My mother was a teacher (retired now), and my dad worked with the railroad (also retired now), and both jobs brought them into contact with most people in our town over the decades.

Going to the grocery store with my mother was like traveling with a celebrity. There always seemed to be little kids shouting "Mom! Mom! Look! It's MRS PETERSON!!!" with wide-eyed looks of astonishment that I always thought should be for somebody famous and not my mom, who was an "ordinary person". (If you read my blog regularly, you'll know how proud I am to be her daughter - and now I can say that her work with hundreds of little ones makes her much more than an ordinary person (not sure what that means anyway)). Every Sunday, we would go to church, and my brother and I would have to stand around for a half hour afterwards while my mom chatted with everybody else.

Advent was an exciting time. Coming into the little church with my mother and brother, and looking up at the flowers and seeing the familiar wreath with its candles, always gave me a little tingle of excitment. The countdown had officially begun...

My brother and I would huddle over the Sears Wishbook (we loved that thing), writing down things we wanted from Santa Claus, and talking about why we hated getting clothes for Christmas. One year, all I wanted was a beachball. I'm not sure why, but I fixated on this for weeks (according to my parents), and refused to say that I wanted anything else. This posed quite a problem for my mom and dad, who wanted to fulfill my request but were going to have a heck of a time trying to find a beachball in the dead of winter in Northern Ontario. There were no shops that sold beach items this time of year, so they started phoning relatives all over Ontario, and then my grandparents down in Florida (they used to spend winters there before my grandfather passed away). That Christmas morning, a delighted little girl opened a brightly coloured package to reveal a beachball. (the things parents do to make their children happy always amazes me)

My father wasn't a religious man (still isn't really), but he would attend Christmas Mass with us because my mom insisted that we all be together there as a family. Even though he wasn't a regular attendant, people were always welcoming, and the priest (whom we knew very well) always had a kind word for him. My dad would drive us around town to look at the lights, while my brother and I sat in the back, bundled up in our coats, staring out the windows to try and catch a glimpse of Rudolph's red nose. There was a little radio tower in town that had a glowing red light at the top that my dad would always drive past, so we could look up and think that the reindeer were just above our town. "Let's go and see if we can find Rudolph!" became the catch-phrase for our drives on the night before Christmas.

Our family liked to sleep in on Christmas morning. I'm sure my parents can tell stories of us trying to wake them up at 6am (most likely my brother), but the time to start the morning was 8am for a long time, then when we were teenagers, we'd sometimes sleep until 10 o'clock in the morning. The stockings were always first, and my brother and I would sit in the family room, ripping open little presents until we got to the orange in the toe. No matter how we were feeling that morning, we'd always eat the orange. Then waiting impatiently for my dad to get out of bed, we'd stare at the huge pile of presents under the tree while the coffee machine gurgled and my mom pulled out her camera.

A flurry of gift-opening would follow, with the customary squeals of delight, and wide-eyed stares of surprise at particuarly good presents. You could always tell when it was a "really good present" because my parents would exchange knowing smiles and the camera would come out. Nervously, we'd open the wrapping paper to reveal something that we either didn't know we were getting or something we really wanted but never expected to recieve. After all of the gifts were opened, my parents took pictures of us in the pile of torn paper (some were very cute pics) - a tradition that continues today.

When I look at the pictures of Christmases I've spent as a child; in our cozy home in Capreol, visiting family in southern Ontario, visiting grandparents in Florida; I don't remember any negative things at all. I don't remember fighting with my brother (which I'm sure happened a lot), or feeling sad because there were gifts I didn't recieve, or road trip troubles while we made our way down highway 400 to visit aunts and uncles and cousins. They all blend together somehow - with some outstanding memories yes, but for the most part, I remember a mix of delicious food, colours, fantastic presents (my parents always spoiled us rotten), visits with loved ones, and that warm feeling that the world was at peace.

Silent night
holy night
all is calm,
all is bright.
Round yon virgin, mother and child
holy infant so tender and mild
sleep in heavenly peace
sleep in heavenly peace


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