“Where are you going for Christmas this year?” That seems to be the most asked question right about now. For me, I have to bring a pie, a bag full of presents and show up at my son’s place, and wait for the dinner call.
For some folks, this is their year to travel. Maybe they are daring and have booked a Christmas Eve flight, totally optimistic that the snow will be gone, the baggage handlers will have their raise, and the plane will lift off on time. Surely the airport has fixed all those problems they had last year. Bacon and eggs on Christmas morning at Tim Horton’s on the departure level just isn’t the same as sitting at your relative’s in Edmonton trying to convert the wind chill factor.
But Christmas is all about optimism and hope. Like the people who have reservations on the ferries for instance. Surely having a reservation means that you have a spot on the ferry, the ferry will leave the dock on time, and you will arrive in Port Alberni just after noon. Unless of course, the winds come up or the engines go down.
Some are driving through the mountain passes to Kamloops or the Okanagan. They have snow tires and chains, a full tank of gas and a trunk full of confidence. The roads will be clear and sanded, the car will run smoothly, the kids will have outgrown their car sickness and they will pull into Mom’s driveway way ahead of schedule. They won’t even allow thoughts of standing beside the car in a blizzard trying to read the instructions on tire chain box. Oh yes, Christmas traveling can be an adventure for sure.
There is a line from a Christmas song that stirs up some memories, “I’m drivin home for Christmas, to get my feet on holy ground.” I like that. Everyone wishes to be home for Christmas or to have all the family home with them. But as our families extend and add new twigs and branches onto the family tree, it becomes more difficult to have everyone gather in one spot. Still, when they do and they’re together, warts and all, it surely seems like holy ground.
In my Christmas file, I have a black and white photograph with Dec. 63 imprinted on the bottom. My three brothers and I are sitting on the living room floor and my older brother, home on leave from the Air Force, has a set of dice and is showing us how to shoot craps. This is certainly not a Christmas tradition my Mom wants to start in a good Christian home, and even though no money is changing hands, the guilty look on our faces reveals that we being naughty, not nice.
Yet I remember the excitement of hearing our big brother was coming home for Christmas that year. He pushed an old ’55 Chevy through the prairie snow from Gimli Manitoba and the stories of his trip were just as exciting as the Air Force tales he told around the table. I’m sure there must have been a sense of peace for my parents to have the noise and the confusion of everyone home even if Mom did run through all four names whenever she was trying to talk to one of us.
Other years maybe it was Grandma Cole coming from Edmonton for the holidays. That would mean a trip down to the CN station in Fort Langley to meet the train. The blackboard inside the office would tell you if the train was on time or not. No computer screen or data link, just the chatter of the telegraph and the chalk from the station master kept you informed.
We would peer eastward down the tracks until we could see the big headlight in the fog and eventually hear the train whistle. Once it ground to a stop, the porter would swing out, place the step stool and offer his hand to Grandma to help her to the platform. We would lift the big black suitcase from the baggage cart knowing it was full of presents, scotch mints and humbugs. Toast with cheddar cheese is always Christmas with Grandma.
Sometimes the visitors didn’t travel far. Uncle Bob and Aunty Marg were close, and whenever they pulled in the driveway, it felt like they were coming home for Christmas. My uncle enjoyed the party atmosphere of the holiday season and he could easily be coaxed into a jig or to break out his fiddle, truly a jolly old elf. We shared New Year’s Day dinners, and none of us will ever forget my aunt’s perfect Cornish game hens, or my Dad asking where the turkey was after we finished them.
These are the ghosts of Christmas past – he family members that won’t be making the holy pilgrimage this year, but we can invite them anyway. Simply turn out all the lights but the candles and the Christmas tree, relax in the quiet of the evening, and raise a glass in a toast and say, “Merry Christmas, welcome home.”
But once everyone is there safe and sound it is the most wonderful time of the year, shared with relatives that will either annoy you or entertain you. It has been said that two types of people show up at a family dinner. Those that help with the dishes and those that talk about their operations. But every visit is a bundle of memories waiting to be unwrapped.
A Family Fruit Cake Recipe
Separate the brothers quickly
Or it’s never going to set;
Mix the in laws with the Grandpas,
But don’t add the brandy yet.
Blend the Grandmas both together,
That’s more sugar than you need,
Don’t bring your sister to a boil
Or that’s one less mouth to feed!
Toss in an aunt and uncle,
Sift in a cousin here and there,
Set your daughter’s half-baked boyfriend
On the porch, to cool off there.
Once the glaze of rum appears,
Try keeping all those nuts awake,
Sit back, stir in the Grandkids,
That’s the icing on the cake!
Photo: Nathan Anderson / Unsplash