My memories of Christmas as a child have faded. We always had a tree and we got at least one gift. My parents struggled because they both worked, but put every dime into renovating the old farmhouse they bought for $10,000. It was heated with a big old stove with pipes running everywhere and we had no indoor plumbing. We had an outhouse (brutal in the winter) and a well.
Christmas Eve was always at my Uncle Frank and Aunt Daisy’s place in Toronto. There was always a huge number of people in a really small house. Lots of cousins I hardly knew and all of them from my mother’s side of the family. She had two brothers that I remember, Frank and Cliff and there was my mother and her sister, Ann. Cliff played the piano and he was always a riot. There was always a gag box for Clive (?), full of gag gifts which he opened with great ceremony. The “gifts” were always funny and sometimes a little naughty. It was like the forerunner to Carrot Top.
My strongest memory of those Christmas Eves was when we all came way too close to dying on our way home. We lived on the fifth line and there was a long curve coming off Derry Road. We kids were asleep in the back seat (no seat belts back then) when my Dad hit a patch of black ice. I remember being jolted awake as we careened back and forth through the ditches on both sides of the road. If my Dad hadn’t been a driving instructor at one point in his life we probably would have bought the farm, but he managed to get control again and we all lived thanks to his driving ability.
After my parents had moved out West and I got married we started our own traditions, like Baileys and coffee Christmas morning. As the kids grew, first Chris was the designated person to hand out presents, one at a time, as we always did so we could keep track of who they were from and we all got to share the surprise of opening each gift. After the presents were all opened I cooked breakfast and we always had our family treat, malt toast.
One tradition I started, and one that turned out to be very expensive over the years, was to have a themed tree. We always had a real tree. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not sure when it started, but I think the first one might have been angels. I bought every kind of angel you could think of, from glass ornaments to angel hair. You name it. I had it. Every year was different and because everyone always came to our house for Christmas Eve, everyone would say how much they were looking forward to seeing our tree to see what we had come up with this year. It was a solitary task because my ex never participated, but she never participated in anything I did with any of our houses, all of which I renovated top to bottom, but she never so much as picked up a paint brush in twenty-three years. Off topic. I don’t remember every single tree theme, but there was one with ribbons; one was Charlie Brown themed (my personal favorite); one with birds, which was really expensive because we had matching garlands down both banisters, all with matching birds. They weren’t dollar store birds. They were from the craft store, so each one was pricey.
As tree lights improved over the years, with ones that flashed different patterns, of course I had to have those too. As awesome as all of these trees were, I could never do a repeat or everyone would have been disappointed, so off I went every year to buy all new stuff. The funny part was I hated traditional red and green, so this was never a theme. Not sure why. I guess it just didn’t seem very creative to do what everyone else did.
After I moved out West Christmas changed forever because my parents went south to Yuma, Arizona for the winter, so I was basically alone. Most years I went up to Ron and Wendy’s in Revelstoke. With no little kids around things changed a lot. There were no more excited early mornings and it lost a lot of its excitement. Without kids around there wasn’t a lot of gifts or toys for us to play with. Christmas became more about going up to Revelstoke to go snowmobiling, which was great, but not very much like Christmas, partly because I went up there all the time throughout the winter months. Some years were spent with friends, like Wade and Laura, but usually I was with some girlfriend where we celebrated Christmas.
One the of craziest was when I was living with Karen. I got this brilliant idea to buy a bunch of lights and thick Styrofoam and make various patterns like Santa, Christmas bells and reindeer. I got pictures off the internet and then projected them onto the Styrofoam, then started punching out holes for the lights to go into. Little did I realize just how difficult this was going to be. The hole had to be perfect to hold the lights tightly or they would just fall through. Putting lights close to each other was also a challenge not to break the Styrofoam. After the first one Karen was delighted and, naturally, wanted more. She had a big house fronting onto the road, plus we were having a big Christmas due on Christmas Eve, so she wanted them up for that. The weather turned unusually cold for the Okanagan and the next thing I know I’m out in the unheated garage freezing my fingers off putting all these signs together. They did look great though and everyone was very impressed that I made them.
After Karen and I went our separate ways and I moved in with Tracy Karen very graciously let me have a couple of the signs for Tracy’s house. Her kids were delighted and I got the praise all over again when we had Christmas Eve at Tracy’s house. It was great to have small kids around again and, although I missed my own kids horribly it was nice to be around small children again at Christmas time. I was so in love with Tracy and the kids. It was a joyous time with lots of warm feelings to be together on that Christmas.
Christmas took on a whole new meaning after we lost Dad in 2005. Even though I had never spent a Christmas with them in over thirty-five years, just losing Dad still made it sad. Mum was also suffering from Alzheimer’s so there wasn’t a lot of joy around anytime. My worst Christmas ever was when I had planned to be with my girlfriend at the time, Sylvie, the French fireball. My brother-in-law and sister were going to come down from Revelstoke and stay with my mother over Christmas so I could get away from the twenty-four seven caring for her. I forget what day Christmas was on, but my sister suddenly showed up a few days before and advised me that we were going to have our Christmas on like the twenty-second because they were going to Vegas for the holidays. Didn’t give a rat’s ass that they destroyed my Christmas by not being here for Mum and letting me get away. I was trapped and really upset that they could be so callous. It was not a happy time. Not only could I not have some time away for Christmas, but I also couldn’t go to the Corral for New Years, which I had done every single year I was in the Okanagan. It was the worst holiday ever and I never forgave my sister for what she did to me.
The strangest Christmas was when I left for Panama on Boxing Day. Christmas was spent packing what little I could take on the plane. When I arrived in Panama City on Boxing Day night I was shocked that they had so many Christmas lights up everywhere. I wasn’t thinking because Panama is primary Catholic, so this is a big deal to them. It was still strange to be celebrating Christmas with no snow, but there was more than I expected to see. The following Christmas was spent with my girlfriend, Magaly, standing out on the balcony looking down at all the lights in Boquete. Still no snow, of course, but nice warm feelings anyway. Although Magaly was a lot younger than me, I spoke broken Spanish and she spoke no English, so we could never argue. We had a wonderful relationship and I felt so bad when I had to return to Canada and leave her behind.
My first Christmas in London was beyond horrible. The girl I had moved here for did not want her kids to know about me, so I didn’t get to spend Christmas with her. Even though I was beyond broke and on welfare I still spent a ridiculous amount on her and her daughter in presents, but that went down poorly because where was she going to say they came from? I was so sad that she thought so little of me that I couldn’t meet her other kids. I had bought her youngest daughter new skates but we never went skating together. Not long after the girl I loved and moved here for screwed around on me and broke my heart.
Last Christmas was the worst ever. I was working at the call centre and my friend from Toronto was going to come down for a couple of days to spend some time with me, but it got all screwed up and I ended up working Christmas Day and Boxing Day so that others with family could spend time with their families. I hated the thought of not only working the holidays, but how quiet I thought it would be. I was so wrong because it was crazy busy, mostly because so few people were working. The time flew by, but I still hated being alone on Christmas and, as usual, I missed my kids as I had done every year for seventeen years. The only difference with this Christmas is that I won’t be working which makes it all the more lonely. It’s no wonder that more people commit suicide on Christmas than at any other time of the year.
Not only do I not get to see my kids at Christmas, which I always dreamed of doing some day, especially with five grand children I’ve never met, but Mum and Dad are both gone now. I don’t have any contact with my brother and sister, for good reason and I don’t have a single friend here in London. It will be the loneliest Christmas ever. If I can’t be with my kids and grand kids I wish I was at least back out West with my many friends there.
Oh, well, Merry Christmas to you and your family. Hold your loved ones close and make it a special time, because one day you could also be alone.