Each year, the Christmastime rituals of my childhood started when Dad, the responsible “father-knows-best” of the 1950s, transformed into the biggest kid on the block. He would start the holiday traditions by piling us into our old Ford and, with a wink of his eye and a nod of his head, we were heading out on our magical Christmas ride.
Our first stop was on West Hastings Street in downtown Vancouver; a short walk brought us to the spectacular Christmas window displays of Woodward’s Department Store. With our cold noses and mittened hands pressed against the glass, the enchanted forest scene - made all the more magical by the twinkling lights, gaily decorated fir trees topped by fairy-placed stars and the fluffy “snow” covering the forest floor - delighted us to the tips of our toes. Marching red-coated, brass-buttoned nutcracker soldiers led a parade of ballerinas in frothy pink tutus trimmed in glimmering silver sequins; round and round they went, surrounding Santa, red-nosed Rudolph and the other prancing reindeers, who drew the brilliantly decorated sled through the forest path. There were skaters gliding across the ice, dancing candy canes, winking snowmen, flirtatious snow-ladies wearing perky hats, whimsical chubby elves, and carols ringing through the air. It was pure fantasy and a fairyland made for our young imaginations.
Piling us back into the car, the magic continued as we drove towards home. Dad twisted and turned through the neighbourhood streets, our oohs and aahs ringing loudly and our hands clapping with delight as we rounded each corner and admired the houses garlanded in bright lights. Our gentlest rejoicing was reserved for the magnificent rustic manger scene our kindly neighbour, Mr. T., lovingly erected each year, just so we didn’t forget the reason for the celebration.
The evening always ended with an invitation from Mrs. T. to enjoy a mug of hot, sugary cocoa, always a bit lumpy, but with gooey, melting marshmallows on top; it was lip smacking good!
Suitably wired, we were tucked into our beds with visions of days of merriment ahead: a relaxing of the household rules, visiting Santa to place our orders, sleeping filled with excitement and sneaking sweets that appeared in tiny little candy dishes around the house.
After what seemed like weeks of waiting, the big night finally arrived! Dad was at his best: twirling us around the room to the sounds of the big bands he loved so much. We giggled, we sang, we jumped and nearly busted with excitement. As soon as we had plated the cookies and milk and placed them perfectly on the fireplace mantel for Santa, we listened to “The Night Before Christmas” and were then tucked into our beds.
Snuggling in, I stayed awake for hours, my tummy roiling with anticipation. There was nothing to do but wait and wish the long night to pass quickly! My little sister finally dropped into a restless sleep, one eye and both ears open so nothing would be missed, especially the hoof-beats on our roof.
My young mind twirled. Had Santa arrived, had I been good enough, had he made it safely down the chimney and past our ferocious (in his mind) Paddy-dog? How many treasures had he left under the tinsel-laden tree? Had my hints been heard? Would the coveted Madame Alexander ballerina doll-with-real-hair be under the tree? Or perhaps the white buckskin figure skates or the silver charm bracelet, possibly the coveted transistor radio or the spool-knitting kit, maybe the next issue of Nancy Drew or the latest Archie comic. I knew for sure that there would be a juicy Mandarin orange and a potato in my mantel-hung stocking, along with a giant red and white candy cane, which I could eat before breakfast!
Finally, Christmas morning arrived! All we had to do was wait in bed for the “signal” – Dad’s signal, the start of that special day; my sister, brother and I were warned to not even think of peeking over the staircase banister.
Waiting for the sound of Dad’s footsteps down the stairs, marked by the creak of the landing, was almost too much to bear. Then came the crackling sound as Dad lit the logs in the fireplace; we could just see Paddy-dog stretched out in front of the hearth, in his dog mind relishing this special day and loving the warmth of the fire. We knew that the plate of cookies and the milk set out the night before would be gone; we always hoped that Santa got there before Paddy-dog. All this meant that the signal was not far off.
First, HoHoHo, a little pause, another HoHoHo, then the joyous sound of our Christmas song “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Dad’s favourite Broadway show, “Oklahoma!” Let the fun begin.
Christmas will always be “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” I have never forgotten the significance of that song and its role in developing my love of Christmas.
Today, I am much older than Dad was in those magical days of my childhood Christmas, but I am still a believer in his magic!
DECEMBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND