Peter’s Christmas Past


This is my last column before the “Don’t Believe A Word I Say” Christmas hiatus. Pull up a chair and I will regale you with some of my Christmas memories. Not in strict chronological order, but I hope to shed some light on Christmas on Franklin Street in the 60’s and 70’s.

Mum and Dad both loved Christmas, and bestowed that love of the season on their entire brood. 1) They started their preparations in late summer, buying “Jenny Lind” chocolates, cellophane bags of mixed nuts and candy canes. While these treasures were pretty much hidden in plain sight, we kids all respected the sanctity of Mum and Dad’s efforts to give us a nice Christmas. Time dragged by for us, although I am sure that it flew by for our parents.

Towards the end of November, Dad would go out and hang a couple of strings of outdoor lights on the eaves facing Franklin Street. I remember asking him what the difference was between “outdoor” and “indoor” lights. Dad never scoffed at our thirst for knowledge, and patiently explained the difference to his second son. As we “turned the corner” into December, interior decorations were brought down from the attic. A manger was put up on the mantle stone of our fireplace. Figures were added, the usual suspects, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, the Magi and assorted stable animals. Cotton batting was added to give it that “wintry” look.

My parents loved music, and music was a staple of Christmas at our house. Sometimes Dad played classical music on his stereo, other times he would play Christmas albums. He purchased an Andy Williams Christmas album and played it frequently. Many years later, I was in a CD store and I came across not one, but three copies of this album. I was seeing two of my siblings on the weekend, so bought them all. I got to the host’s house the following Saturday, distributed the other two copies and one was put on the CD player. Suddenly 3 of the people in the front room were misty eyed, it was a morning in December 1968, getting ready to go to school, missing that good time.

We would all go downtown for the annual Santa Claus parade, and the floats and the traction engines were fascinating. Finally we saw “the great man” himself, a wonderful climax to an exciting morning. Later we’d go to Desi’s Steak House for French fries and Coca-Cola. (Mum would use the “I see Santa Claus” line to keep her unruly crew ruled, sort of.)

Of course Christmas TV specials were a big part of those easy times. “Frosty the snowman”, “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer”, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “The Little Drummer Boy” were all eagerly watched. Although we could probably recite the dialogue with the sound turned down, it was like we were acknowledging the importance of tradition in the flow of Life.

In the middle of December, it was time to get the Christmas tree. We had no car, so no Rockwellian foray to chop one down, but there were a couple of Christmas tree lots near our place. On a Saturday, off we would go. The operation finished, Dad would saw off the tree stump at an angle, and patiently explained to me why he did so. He had made a wooden Christmas tree stand 2) and would then stretch out the three strings of indoor lights for a “pre flight check”. In those days, if one bulb didn’t work, the whole string would not light up. I remember him working his way along these three strands, checking each light individually. As it sometimes took an hour to check these lights out, I am certain that there were times when he wanted to use some salty Anglo Saxon language, but I believe that the physical presence not only of his adoring wife but his “parrot” kids precluded that from happening.

And at last Christmas Eve had finally arrived! We got up the next morning, got dressed and Dad called Champlain Taxi. A few minutes later the cab would arrive and off we went to mass. ( In those days before “elfin safety ” there were no seatbelts. The cab would arrive at Guardian Angels Church and we must have looked like a clown car as we all spilled out of the car!)

Guardian Angels Church Orillia

Mass finally over, home we went. My dear Mum cooked breakfast for the crew, and at the end, Dad would say that the dishes had to be done and the kitchen cleaned up before the presents could be opened! ( They could only play this card once a year, so they never missed a chance. )

At last we were able to go into the front room.  Dad would move the chair which blocked the door out of the way. 3) We raced in and checked out our stockings. They were on the hearthstone and contained socks and mitts and nuts and candies and a precious orange 4). We also got a box of animal crackers with box art of circus animals in a wheeled cage 5).

After a few minutes, it was time to open the presents. As Mum and Dad had a basketball team in the front room, things were very well organized. There were a number of green garbage bags on hand.  One of the children was appointed “Santa “, and would select and distribute 3 gifts. The first recipient would read the card on their present, put the card to the side and open the present. They would then show it to everyone, and if possible, pass it around. They would then put the wrappings in the garbage bag. This would prompt recipient number 2 to repeat the process, and so on and so on. It was not until later that I realized what they were doing.  Mum and Dad were prolonging the joy, prolonging the family time.

When we were finished, the oldest boys would carry the full garbage bags out to the garage.  I remember to this day how much colder the garage was than the house.  ( I was never bright enough to put on a sweater. )

Oh yes, and my Mum, an amazing cook, had put on the enormous turkey at about midnight. As we opened our presents and celebrated, we could smell the beautiful aroma of the turkey, hear the hiss and sputter of the boiling vegetables and look forward to a wonderful meal where we could eat what we wanted. It was well cooked and there was more than enough to go around.  Happy, beautiful days!

All the best of the season to you, loyal reader. I will see you in 2020.


1) Don’t forget that for at least a few of the years I am talking about, there were 10 people living in a 3 bedroom bungalow.
2) Dad was very handy with hand tools.
3) When you are a kid, you never think of all the hard work that your parents put into ensuring that you have a good time.
4) This was long before speedy produce delivery.
5) Why do I remember that and have to look to see if I am wearing a tshirt?


8 Responses to “Peter’s Christmas Past”

  1. Damon Hines Says:

    Have a Very Merry Christmas, Peter, and ALL the Best 8n the New Year; thank you for sharing your precious memories with us!! Take care, enjoy! 👍👍😘🎵😁😎🎄🎅🎁💖😉

  2. Teresa Coulter Says:

    Loved this Peter. Our Christmas’s were very similar to yours. Maybe because our parents were siblings! You brought me back to the 60’s at Christmastime. Thanks for that. Christmas is so much better with children around and your large family certainly fit the bill!

  3. Michael E Peters Says:

    Lovely memories there Peter! Thanks for sharing. I enjoy your column.
    A Merry Christmas to you Sir.
    And all the best in 2020

  4. karen amero (campbell) Says:

    thank you peter my christmas was very similar and brought a smile to my face as i continue with my children the same things merry christmas to you and your family all the best in 2020 and look forward to more stories i have lived in orillia since 1955 and your dad taught me at park thanks again God bless

  5. Betty Whipple Says:

    wonderful memories of your Christmas’s past-we were both so lucky to have had very happy childhoods-truly blessed!
    hugs, Bettie Whipple

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