Tuesday, December 19, 2023

#MidwinterGreetings: Join acclaimed author J.P. Reedman as she shares her Christmas memories of 1960s Canada with us #HistoricalFiction #Christmas #TheCoffeePotBookClub @stonehenge2500 @cathiedunn

Christmas in 1960s Canada

by J.P. Reedman

Fifty-something years ago, when my first memories of Christmas emerged, it was a magical time for a child in my hometown of Victoria, Canada.

Shortly after the beginning of the December, up went lavish Christmas displays in the windows of the town’s major department stores, Eaton’s and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Animatronic polar bears nodded through glittery snow, jolly Santa waved from a moving sleigh, Rudolph’s nose gleamed bright, while green-clad elves hammered away in faerie workshops, preparing the toys in workshops glittering with tinsel and with twinkling with lights.

Eaton’s and Simpson Sears would also release their wonderful, much-anticipated Christmas catalogues, containing pages and pages of amazing toys…some of which I had seen advertised on our black and white TV between The Lucy Show, Gilligan’s Island and The Flying Nun!  Every kid waited eagerly for the arrival of this magical book of dreams, so that they could sit with their friends, drool over the pictures, and hint to their parents about what delights Santa Claus might bring them if they were very, very good.

Every December, for 4-5 years, I would also receive an invitation to a party run by the Veteran’s Association for the children of war vets (my dad was a tank driver in World War II). It was held in an old-fashioned music hall with on Blanshard Street, and entertainment would be a stream of clowns, comedy routines and choirs. The highlight, of course, was Santa’s arrival and the chance to go up on stage to receive a gift from him and his helpers. The Christmas Party was pretty much the only time my mother could get me into a dress and a hair-bow—I was never a girly-girl, but would wear red and green velvet to meet Santa at Christmas!

At home, the decorations were going up, the boxes of baubles and lights dragged out of storage in a big box in the basement. My favourite piece was the tree-topper, a 10-inch figure of the angel Gabriel wearing a long white robe. I also liked some vintage faceted baubles that shone green-blue like peacock’s feathers. The lights never seemed to work first try, though, and when my parents finally got them working, we’d mute their glow with daubs of ‘angel hair’, which was, in retrospect, pretty nasty stuff made of fibreglass threads! Artificial trees were becoming the rage back in the 60s, especially metallic ones, but my parents didn’t approve of such new-fangled fakery.

Instead, on one occasion, we drove up to the crest of a mountainous pass called The Malahat and dad took out his trusty axe (he’d been a lumberjack briefly before WWII) and hacked down one of the many fir trees covering the slopes. He tied it with ropes to the roof of our wood-panelled Rambler and back home we hurried, through a haze of falling snowflakes. Can you imagine anyone doing that today? You’d be hauled down to the nearest police station!

As the days grew even shorter, I would eagerly await the arrival of the ‘parcel man’. His van had distinctive screechy brakes, the sound of which would send me rushing to the door. My mum usually received a parcel from her family in England each year. When it arrived, it was a large round-ish ball heavily wrapped in brown paper and string. Inside was clothing, usually knit-wear, and other little gifts.

The items had a pleasant fragrance that was unfamiliar, perhaps from talc or washing powder; I used to call it ‘the smell of England.’ One memorable year my Aunt Kathleen sent a vinyl disk which she had recorded in a big department store in London. As overseas phone calls were infrequent back then owing to the expense, it seemed so marvellous and strange to hear her voice so clearly, sending love from Uncle Cyril and baby Kevin. I played the record over and over till it crackled.

Many local people in Victoria would decorate their houses with lights and figures, making grand displays for the community to enjoy. The local paper would list the best and at dusk my dad would drive the family around town to have a look. A local hotel near the beach had an excellent nativity scene with life-sized figures nestling in a disused garage; a house across town had Charlie’s Brown’s Christmas with Snoopy and Woodstock, beloved figures even today, and yet another had a display featuring hundreds of dolls in various costumes.

Once we returned home and warmed up with hot chocolate, the TV would go on and there would be the Christmas shows for kids: Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Frosty the Snowman (the end made me cry), the Grinch (my favourite) and a Russian-made version of The Snow Queen (my second favourite.) Babes in Toyland was another, but that one rather scared me, with its creepy scenes of evil, moving trees.

Around Christmas, the Salvation Army would march through the streets of Victoria, playing instruments and going door to door for donations. You could hear coming them from blocks away. One year, we had heavy snow (for the least snowy part of Canada!) I heard the trumpets in the distance and ran out on the porch with my mum and big sister to look. The band members were standing under the streetlight at the far end of the road, whirling snowflakes flying around them in a gold-tinted halo while they played ‘Angels We Have Heard on High.’ The next day, with the snow having settled and the sky winter-blue, the whole family ventured out, with chains attached to the tires of our car, and went into the city’s park where kids were sliding on sledges down the hill. We nearly got ourselves into a jam, though, when the locks on the car doors froze! Fortunately, hot tea from someone’s thermos saved the day…

On Christmas Eve, the radio would be turned on. Mum would turn it up as the announcer said, voice deep and serious, “Santa’s sleigh has been spotted coming from the North Pole!” I would run to help put out the cookies and milk for the expected visit and pin stockings to our brick fireplace. Once that was done, I would be ushered upstairs to bed, but often couldn’t sleep with excitement for hours. I’d beg my mum to turn the radio on again to check on Santa’s progress, and sure enough, HE WAS GETTING NEARER.

I always fell asleep some hours before the big moment of his arrival…but in the morning the cookies and milk were always gone (I am sure my dad enjoyed his midnight snack!)

Then it would be torn paper and excitement, with our cat Siwan racing through the mess, chasing bows and batting at Christmas baubles.

Later that day, the freshly-cooked, oven-hot turkey would be given pride of place on the dining table, the Queen’s Speech would be dutifully watched on the TV, and we would all tuck in to the food. By the end of the day, every window was steamy, and everyone in the house looked groggy and stuffed with food (and sherry and wine for the older family members!)

It was time to go to bed with my new toys and books (always my favourite gift, even then) as Christmas slipped away towards the beginning of yet another year.

The Good Queen: Matilda, Wife of Henry I

Medieval Babes

by J.P. Reedman

Daughter of a Scottish king and an Anglo-Saxon princess, Edith is sent to her Aunt Cristina, the Abbess of Romsey for her education. Cristina is harsh and unkind and tries to force Edith to wear a nun's veil, first as a disguise and then permanently, but Edith is enraged and tramples it on the ground. She begs her parents to move her from Romsey to the grand Abbey of Wilton and for a while Edith's life is calm and fulfilling--but then the suitors begin to come. Most fearsome of all is the King, William Rufus, with his fierce mismatched eyes, florid face...and evil reputation. 

More intriguing, though, is his younger brother Henry, and when Rufus dies in the New Forest, struck by an arrow on the hunt, Edith of Scotland's world is about to change.

A new life...a new name...a destiny as England's Good Queen, uniting both Saxon and Norman.

This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.

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J.P. Reedman

J.P. Reedman was born in Canada but has lived in the U.K. for over 30 years.

Interests include folklore & anthropology, prehistoric archaeology (Neolithic / Bronze Age Europe; ritual, burial & material culture), as well as Richard III and The Wars of the Roses and lesser-known medieval queens and noblewomen. Her earliest love was always fantasy, though…watch this space!

Connect with J.P.:

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