The time following the Depression and into WWII was not known for extravagant gifts under the tree and tables spread with bountiful feasts. But that does not mean that they were dreary and dreaded. I think back to my early Christmases with a great many fond memories.
I grew up on a farm and attended a one-room country school. Christmases meant hefting the ax and tramping through knee-deep snow into our woods to pick the best Christmas tree we could spot, church celebration services, school Christmas concerts, and visits with family or friends. Even though our house was small, there was always room for a few more at the table. My mother was adept at tossing a few more potatoes in the pot and cutting the meat, which was often venison or elk steaks, into smaller portions.
One Christmas that stands out in my memory happened when I was around eight. We lived on a road that led to a First Nations reservation if one traveled east, and to another if one went west. The two reservations were several miles apart, but we often had travelers, either single wagons of families or little groups traveling together, pass by our place. Occasionally they stopped to sell smoked fish or other goodies. Truth was, thanks to an older sister who loved to tell her own versions of “Indian lore,” I was afraid of them and always kept well behind a protective parent.
The Christmas in mind started out as usual. The school concert was an event we looked forward to. Of course we kids all had parts to memorize and perform, but there would also be neighborly visits over a potluck lunch, candy treats, and a visit from someone’s father dressed as Santa. We couldn’t wait. We traveled by horses and sleigh, sleigh-bells jingling “all the way.” We snuggled down in the heavy bedding of warm straw covered by blankets and sang carols and counted falling stars.
On this particular evening, we had an unexpected addition to the usual program. A First Nation couple had been making the trek from one reserve to the other and had stopped to tent in our neighborhood. I’m not sure who first discovered them, but they were invited to the concert and became a part of the entertainment. They both played guitars, and he sang and chatted comfortably. We were enthralled. A real “Indian” at our concert.
A couple days later, word came that a bad storm had blown down a tree that ripped a big hole in the First Nation couple’s tent. My mom soon had Dad hitching up the team and going to look for them. I remember standing there watching him go. It was cold and stormy, and as a child I was more than a little concerned.
So that was how we came to have guests for Christmas. The man’s name was Mr. Northwest. I don’t recall his first name. The woman was very shy, and I don’t think she knew much English, but he more than made up for that. He was a wonderful storyteller and could do little tricks, like whistling into his guitar and making it sound like the echo was coming from the ceiling. Dad and Mom gave up their bedroom and shuffled us kids around to make room in our limited space. I suppose some of us slept on the floor—but we were used to that when guests came. They were with us for a few days until the storm abated, and during that time I lost my fear of Canada’s native people.
When the weather cleared and they were once again able to be on their way, it was with a sense of sadness that we watched them go—trudging off into the whiteness, their packs on their backs. I guess it was one of those wonderful lessons that God teaches when we least expect it. Christmas—my favorite time of the year—is even better when it is shared.
God bless your Christmas!
What is one of your favorite Christmas memories?
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