Some of my fondest Christmas memories are of finally arriving home to my parents’ place in Ste Jeanne d’Arc, Lac St Jean. My mother loved Christmas and went to great lengths to make it special for all of us. I would finally arrive on their doorstep after a long and, many times, treacherous drive from Montreal. My mum and dad would greet me with wide open arms and big smiles of relief that I had made it home safely.
Christmas dinner was turkey, potatoes, turnip and stuffing made with sausages – just as my maternal grandmother had made for her family. The windows were outlined with coloured lights strung around gold coloured garland. The tree had wonderful lights in the shape and colour of flames.
I don’t know if it is still like that but when I was growing up, New Year’s was the more important holiday. We would celebrate with ma tante Léontine and her brood of eleven children. In time, the cousins married and started families of their own. I remember dinners where we were fifty at the table. We would put our coats in the master bedroom, which was the only bedroom on the ground floor, and in the middle of all these coats, you would always find a baby or two.
In time my brother, Michael and his wife, Mireille took over Christmas. Mireille insisted that Christmas be just like Mme Claveau’s. Suddenly the family expanded as Mireille’s mother, her aunt, ma tante Éva and her husband, mon oncle JB as well as Mireille’s brother, his wife and their four children all joined in the festivities. We shared so many stories, laughter, games and food, lots of food. In the week between Christmas and New Year’s, we always went to the camp. It is just a little log camp that somehow accommodated all fifteen or so of us. Mireille would order a tourtière. Tourtière in Lac St Jean is actually a deep-dish pie made with potatoes, onions, partridge, deer or moose, along with pork and beef. All ingredients are prepared the night before and cooked very slowly the following day. We drank Bright’s Hermit Sherry. Don’t ask how that tradition started! No one can remember. It would be kept outside in the freezing cold. It actually tastes quite good when partially frozen. The camp tradition continues to this day. It is quite an expedition lugging all that food into the camp. We had and have so much fun there.
Over the years we have lost ma tante Léontine, Mireille’s mother, mon oncle JB and ma tante Éva. Our mother, who is 98 and in care, is in the end stages of dementia.
I still buy a present for my mother and give her a beautiful Christmas card. She has a cute little tree and a poinsettia. I don’t know if any of this registers. However, every once in a while, the disease slips away and there is a window where mum emerges as the beautiful person she is. So just in case, I want her to experience Christmas.
Remember I mentioned my sister-in-law’s brother and his four children? Well, they are adults now with growing families of their own. Michael and Mireille now stuff these great nieces’ and nephews’ stockings. Once again, there is the absolute delight and joy of young children in the home. No, there are no babies in a ring of coats. Mothers are treated to their own special place with rocking chair, diapers, blankets, towels, wipes, bottled water, and serenity.
We mourn those we have lost and miss them dearly. No one can take their place. Each was unique and special. Each contributed to Christmas in his/her own way. They have left their indelible mark on all of us. We have the wonderful memories and traditions that we once shared to feed and sustain us.
Now that I think of it, I am not so sure that it is new traditions but new participants in the old traditions. To this I say, “WELCOME TO THE TABLE”