Michael Dawe: Christmases past remembered

Robbin and Michael Dawe on Christmas Day in, 1956 in front of the fireplace in the old family home in Michener Hill. Contributed photo

Robbin and Michael Dawe on Christmas Day in, 1956 in front of the fireplace in the old family home in Michener Hill. Contributed photo

Christmas this year is going to be very different than in years past. Hence, for an older person such as myself, who has also made a career of being a historian, it is time when I find myself thinking back to my childhood Christmases.

I was very fortunate as a child to grow up in a beautiful old brick house that had been built by my grandfather in Red Deer’s Michener Hill subdivision in 1911. The house had two large brick fireplaces, complete with tall brick chimneys. One of those fireplaces was in the living room. The other was in a small adjacent den.

It was the living room fireplace that became the focal point for our family Christmases. The large wool stockings were carefully hung off the oak mantle. Since we had a real chimney and fireplace for Santa to use on Christmas Eve, our belief in the traditional Christmas stories became absolute.

The only glitch to the scene was the large piece of tin had been placed across the flue to cut off the cold winter drafts and the small natural gas heater had been inserted into the fireplace opening. We were always concerned that these would be obstacles for Santa. However, my father always promised that he would at least take that tin piece off before Santa arrived.

My father must have been true to his word because each Christmas morning – probably around 5 a.m. – we would rush downstairs to find our stockings bulging with the small gifts from Santa. There was always a mandarin orange, a candy cane, some pieces of chocolate and often a small toy and puzzle for our excited little hands to find.

Those were not the only things left for us by Santa. Next to the chimney, there was a large wooden window seat upon which my father placed our real live Christmas tree. Under that tree, there was a Christmas present from Santa for my brother Robbin, my sister Dorothy and myself. There were numerous other presents from our parents, my uncle Wellington and often other family and friends.

Christmas breakfast was always eaten in the kitchen, after we had opened our stockings, but before we were allowed to touch the main gifts. Christmas lunch was eaten in the dining room, which was an eastward extension of the living room.

After the morning’s excitement, we were bundled up for the trip to the family farm at Pine Lake where my mother’s parents lived. The trip to Pine Lake was often not an easy one. Highway 42 was not plowed as quickly as it is today after a blizzard. Consequently scoop shovels were put in the trunk in case my father and uncle Wellington had to dig us out of a drift.

Once we arrived at the old farmhouse, we were warmly greeted by my grandparents and all the other relatives who were joining us for Christmas. The old house had a coal furnace, but there was also a large Quebec heater in the living room to provide additional heat. The kitchen was never cold, because there was a large wood and coal cook stove. That was where my grandmother, assisted by my mother and aunts, used to cook the enormous Christmas dinner.

Before dinner, there were Christmas oranges, licorice allsorts and a large container of mixed nuts to snack upon. The nuts were particularly fascinating as there were metal nutcrackers and picks to use to get the eatable parts out.

Dinner always consisted of a huge turkey, together with the traditional mashed potatoes, dressing, turnips, salads, gravy, cranberry sauce and fresh baked buns. We always ate far more than we should have. Therefore, while there was the excitement of the post-dinner gift opening, by the small Christmas tree my grandfather had cut on the farm, there was also a drowsiness from being overfull.

As the evening drew to a close, we would head back to town. I always remember the wonder of the bright Christmas lights in the city, in contrast to the darkness around the farm. While the day had been full of excitement, as often as not, we had already fallen asleep before we arrived home.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
UPDATE: Central Alberta cafe owner arrested after anti-restriction protest

The owner of a central Alberta cafe, which was the site of… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

Alberta recorded a single-day record of over 57,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta hits daily record of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Central zone has administered 111,735 doses of the COVID-19

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, is setting off a social media reaction with his calls to stop non essential shopping, such as "buying sandals at Costco", with this photo of his worn sandals, which he published to social media on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dr. Robert Strang, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Nova Scotia’s top doctor sparks meme with caution on non-essential shopping

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s top doctor has launched a social media meme… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Canada's chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Tam warns that full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Canada’s chief public health officer reminded Canadians on Saturday that even those… Continue reading

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour conducts drills during NHL hockey training camp in Morrisville, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
NHL relaxing virus protocols for vaccinated playoff teams

The NHL is relaxing virus protocols for teams that reach a threshold… Continue reading

Canada skip Kerri Einarson directs her teammates against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canada’s Einarson eliminated at curling worlds after 8-3 loss to Sweden’s Hasselborg

CALGARY — Canada’s Kerri Einarson was eliminated at the world women’s curling… Continue reading

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman didn’t expect to get hit with a double whammy at… Continue reading

A courtroom at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton on Friday, June 28, 2019. The effect of the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the Canadian justice system warn a number of legal experts. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench announced Sunday it would adjourn all scheduled trials across the province for at least 10-weeks limiting hearings to only emergency or urgent matters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of five-year-old girl

EDMONTON — An Edmonton woman was found guilty Friday of manslaughter in… Continue reading

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census mailer sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a residence in Ottawa, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Statistics Canada sees more demand to fill out census online during pandemic

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the response to the census is higher… Continue reading

Travellers, who are not affected by new quarantine rules, arrive at Terminal 3 at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Ottawa will create a new digital platform to help in processing immigration applications more quickly and efficiently after COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a digital immigration system, the immigration department said. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process… Continue reading

Most Read