Pat Blythe: Memories of Christmas past, present and future….

little-red-headed-dancing-girl

Ahhh Christmas. The time of year when I regress into a squealing five-year-old, much to the chagrin and amusement of my sisters. My fellow writer Roxanne Tellier has fired off the first DBAWIS Christmas salvo and a beautifully written piece it is. Santa Gutch was next with lots of musical recommendations for all the tuneful lovers on your list. Now it’s my turn.

MerryChr

I find this time of year heartwarming and exhilarating. I have amassed way too bibs and bobs and fine “dustables” in the way of Christmas decorations. Every year new bits and pieces are added and of course, retaining the special treasures that were passed down through the families. My collection has grown to six large containers (not including my Santa collection) and I am remiss to toss anything. My kids will have so much fun going through that collection when I’m gone (she writes with smirk). Family heirlooms will be put aside and labeled. The rest…..

Christmas Past

Christmas memories for many of us growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s are pretty much the same. The focus over the holidays was always family first. Although not every Christmas, visiting relatives in Toronto, Nana’s home being the hub of activity, was eagerly anticipated. I come from a very large Scottish (mom) and English (dad) family and the Scottish side were the folks I knew best. My grandfather was the fifteenth of sixteen children and many had emigrated from Scotland to Canada so there were lots of relatives to go ’round. My dad’s family remained in England and I wasn’t to meet them until the summer of 1970. Mom was born and raised in The Big Smoke and this is where we would travel for various holiday celebrations. I loved going to Nana’s. Always welcoming, busy, happy, singing around the piano….surrounded by lots of family.

SantaAfter family, writing letters to Santa Claus, carefully lining up the cookies and milk on the fireplace sill and then desperately trying to stay awake for even a glimpse of the big guy, was a close second. I truly believe, to this day, I saw him at least once creeping around the stockings. My mom is pretty sure it was either her or dad but…..

Growing up in London, Ontario my sisters and I could hardly wait for the first snowfall. Living in the “snow belt” we were rarely disappointed. As December approached, the Christmas lights would go up and the front door painstakingly covered in Christmas-red foil with a lone spotlight pointed directly at it. Then my dad would carefully lay a strand of the large, bright, outdoor lights across the tops of the bushes lining the front of the house. When the snow fell, the colours glowed through the snow, right outside our bedroom windows. At night I would gaze out the window, elbows perched on the window sill, face resting in my hands, totally enthralled with the quiet beauty of the snow and softly glimmering lights. It was magical.

snow on bushesSchool was out for the holidays and the time was spent building snow forts, engaging in snowball fights, tobogganing, skating and any other winter activity you can think of. Lights twinkled everywhere and the snow had drifted into peaks far higher than we stood. We would remain outdoors until we could barely move. Little frozen balls of ice clinging to our mittens, no feeling in our feet, and yes, snot frozen on our cheeks from wiping our noses with our sleeves (well, what else were we going to use?)…..and still, we insisted on staying out. The only thing enticing us indoors was a cup of my mom’s hot cocoa. It was the best! ….and with marshmallows.

kids sledding

Simpsons department store Christmas windows were on full display. The limited amount of TV we watched was full of commercials. Some of the most popular toys in the 50’s were Mr. Potato Head, Silly Putty, Hula Hoops, Frisbees, Barbie, Skateboards, Matchbox Cars and Tinker Toys. Some of these segued into the 60’s with the addition of Paddle Ball, Marbles, Slinky, Etch A Sketch, Easy Bake Over, Troll Dolls and Hot Wheels. My wonderfully eccentric Uncle John, who sometimes has the most twisted sense of humour, insisted on gifting his three nieces with hockey sticks and pucks, train sets, scarves longer than we were tall and all manner of “boys toys”– all, by the way, put to good use. In reflection, he was a man way ahead of his time and I love him dearly. My mysterious and much loved godfather, Uncle Bud, traveled the world and there was always a special package for me, from some corner of the earth, every year until I was eighteen. Mom always tried to hide it but to no avail.

gumby-9-and-pokey-6-dog-toys-19

Gumby and Pokey

Paddle Ball

Paddle Ball

slinky_

Slinky!

Fast forward to 1979 when Chris and I first moved in together. It also happened to be the month of December. I was determined to “do up” the place for Christmas. It was our first Christmas together and my first one away from home. Lord, I remember hauling that damn Christmas tree down Church St. in the pouring rain (where the hell was the promised snow) and then trying to stuff it in the elevator to go up 18 floors, dragging it down the hallway into the apartment and hoisting it up against the wall. That tree was twice my size. Thank heaven for 12-foot ceilings! Why I had to get such a big tree is a question I still ask myself to this day. It took the rest of the afternoon to dry out before I could decorate it. Luckily the beginnings of my Christmas decor collection had managed to get transported from London to Toronto. However, I had neglected to bring the tree stand. No bother. I have no memory of what I stuck it in but that tree was standing and fully decorated (I can be very resourceful) with the lights blinking by the time Chris walked in the door that evening. I have no idea what went through his mind when he saw the apartment and that huge tree standing in the corner.

Christmas Tree

Thirty-six years later I’m still not sure whether it was a look of shock or horror on his face but whatever it was sent me into paroxysms of laughter. It was one of the few times he was at a loss for words. However, I do remember him checking the sturdiness of the tree and I later discovered several pieces of string discretely wound around the trunk and then looped around various nails that had been pounded into the wall. I also found out he was not a huge fan of Christmas….at least in the beginning. So every year it became my single-minded focus to sway him to the “Christmas side”. It would take a few years of gentle encouragement, but he slowly came to understand I wasn’t giving up and, like it or not, he was stuck with a wife who insisted on all the Christmas trappings. Sometimes he could be a slow learner but he eventually caught on. I found out years later his real enjoyment came from watching me get ready for the holidays, decorating the house, making the gifts of baking and preserves. To him that, and just spending time with family, was Christmas.

….and for those of you reading this column who knew us back when, you will also remember our annual Christmas ‘Fonding‘, (A Chicken Wing Ding and Chocolate Fondue). A Blythe household tradition for 10 years.

Fonding Time Again (1)

A Blythe Family Christmas Fonding

Like Roxanne’s mom, a real tree is a must. When will I get sick of finding pine needles in July? Never. In fact, last year I purchased two trees….one for the house and the other for my new back deck. Luxury.

Christmas Present

Fast forward to 2015 and this is Christmas number three without Chris. Both boys are now grown men although stockings are still de rigueur. T122-3AThis year my containers of ornaments and decorations remain in thebasement, buried under mounds of boxes and furniture from the second floor, totally unreachable. (The renos are still not 100% complete). This year’s seasonal adornments — three poinsettias and a few Christmas bells hanging on the knob of the TV armoire. For the first time in over fifty years that five-year-old has disappeared. I don’t despair. I know she will be back. To add to this mix, this year has been exceedingly busy and the current status of a house in perpetual upheaval has not permitted much in the way of festive ornamentation this year. However, NOTHING stops the baking.

Christmas Future

catboarding

The future holds all things merry, bright and gay. The tree and the over-decorating will be return. The plastic pears will be hung, the pine cones placed artfully on the wreath, the sleigh bells will ring and another too big tree will be dragged in, propped up and covered with 40 years of Christmas baubles. Christmas was, still is, and will forever be, my favourite holiday season.

….and now for a little Santa history….

Santa-Claus-christmas

Santa Claus wasn’t always the portly, joyful, white-bearded man in the red suit. Known as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Pere Noel, or simply Santa, he has come to be the embodiment of Christmas today. “The Santa Claus we all know and love — that big, jolly man in the red suit with a white beard — didn’t always look that way. In fact, many people are surprised to learn that prior to 1931, Santa was depicted as everything from a tall gaunt man to a spooky-looking elf. He has donned a bishop’s robe and a Norse huntsman’s animal skin. In fact, when Civil War cartoonist Thomas Nast drew Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly in 1862, Santa was a small elflike figure who supported the Union. Nast continued to draw Santa for 30 years, changing the color of his coat from tan to the red he’s known for today.” He is easily recognized in any country in the world, always with a smile and sack full of toys. Local Christmas parades are centred around the big guy, complete with eight tiny reindeer (and sometimes Mrs. Claus). Some modifications and alterations have happened over the years, but the jolly old soul still remains the central figure at Christmas for children around the world.

The Legend of Coca-Cola and Santa Claus

Today, many people feel everything about Christmas is far too commercialized. Stores decorate too early, Christmas music blaring from every corner of the city….starting in October, shoppers (and especially drivers) are rude and inconsiderate….Christmas seems to bring out the curmudgeon in some, crustiness in others and downright bad manners in many. I prefer looking at the other side of Christmas. A wonderfully engaging time of year to spend with friends and family, bake up a storm, treat the panhandlers, homeless and those less fortunate with just a little more dignity, reach out to those you haven’t seen or spoken to for ages, walk a little more slowly and enjoy the lighting displays, engage with strangers and wish everyone a Merry Christmas. With all the bright colours, warm glows (and not just from the eggnog) Christmas is (and should be) a uniting season, bringing us together to celebrate each other. ….and never forget the single event that started it all, whatever your beliefs.

Christmas comes from the heart, and yes, I most definitely still believe in Santa Claus.

Music Please

What would Christmas be without the music and carols? I adore Christmas music and singing all the carols at the top of my lungs. These are just a tiny sampling of my favourites.

Mary Did You Know – Penetonix

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – Nat King Cole

Carol of the Bells – Penetonix

Angels We Have Heard On High – Home Free

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas – Bing Crosby

Manheim Steamroller (Christmas) Full Album

Let It Snow, Let It Snow – Dean Martin

Christmas in the Aire – Manheim Steamroller

….and my all time favourite

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo – Trans Siberian Orchestra

…..and of course, one very special Christmas movie.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (The Meaning of Christmas)

Holly

Wishing you all a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and a very happy, healthy New Year!

 

We Wish You A Merry Christmas – Christmas Songs

Cheers,

Sources

Wikipedia, YouTube, personal history

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-buttonIn “real” life Pat Blythe has spent the past 32 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry. After an extended absence Pat is now heading back to the GTA clubs, immersing herself in the local music scene, tasting what’s on offer, talking to people and writing once again — sharing her passions and her deep love of music. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husbandpblytheChristopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who shot much  of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, Plateau, Buzzsaw, Hellfield….) as well as national and international acts,  Currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, Pat is currently compiling a photographic history of the local GTA music scene from 1975 to 1985. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!

One Response to “Pat Blythe: Memories of Christmas past, present and future….”

  1. A lovely walk through time! Merry Christmas!

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