Christmas: Old Style on the Canadian Prairies
December 23, 2011
Living without electricity or running water in itself was enough to ensure that your lifestyle would be different in so many ways. Yes, we did have a telephone and it was a community effort so to speak with a number of neighbours in the surrounding area also enjoying this modern new technology and learning how to evesdrop in so that conversations of a supposed private nature sometimes became just the opposite!
My parents were farmers. We had a quarter section of land and they worked it in order to survive. It was no easy task. For many years my father worked the fields with our team of horses before finally being able to afford a small Ford tractor in the first half of the 1950s. As well, we lived about five miles away from the nearest small town called Togo where one could buy essentials and haul your products to town in order to sell them. Apart from the actual grain crops that went in to the wheat elevator in the fall we also would take in milk and cream and butter which would then be sold to the local buyers.
Winter was a special time in that much of the hard labour of the spring and summer and fall months was over and done with and we would have way more time for recreation. Once the winter wood was cut and split and stacked and the hay and grain were in the barns and the canning and vegies were in the root cellar below the kitchen floor us kids would be free to spend our non-school hours and holidays basically doing our own thing.
When we weren't building snow forts or digging tunnels we could be found either skiing or tobogganing on the hillside that sloped down to the creek next to where we lived. We would shovel off the frozen ponds by the creek and have skating parties or else play hockey or a somewhat crude form of curling. The game of curling was a lot of fun. We filled jam cans or other tin containers with water, let them freeze, then used them for curling rocks. We had little in the way of store bought articles so being innovative and creative was not only the one option available to us but it also served to build a sense of self-reliance and ingenuity that would be useful throughout our lives.
Of course when winter set in and the snow began mounting up and the winds began to blow as they always did the car was parked and left until the springtime. No such thing as plugging it in to keep it warm. There wasn't any "plug in" and all the current bushes at that time were under snow and not producing any voltage! It was the wind that played such a determining role in all of this. Whenever a snow storm would hit, the dirt road that led into town would be subjected to strong winds that would produce snowdrifts of varying sizes and shapes some of which would pile up anywhere from 4 to 6 feet deep. There was just no way that you could take a chance of getting stuck somewhere along that 5 mile stretch of barren landscape with the temperatures down around 30 or 40 degrees below. It would have meant freezing to death within a very short time.
The other mode of transportation around the farm and within the local area was the larger sleigh that Dad would use for various tasks, be they hauling hay or wood or grain or whatever.
When Christmas time came my Mother would begin baking goodies and bringing up treasures from down in the root cellar. We always raised chickens and turkeys and pigs and so there was always a fine "organic" turkey for the table along with all the vegetables and fruits also grown in a natural fashion. Fresh butter, fresh cream, fresh milk from the cows. As kids we took this all in stride never given a thought to the fact that later in our lives things such as these would eventually become the exception rather than the norm. Gifts were rare and in many instances were things that we would make for each other. My parents would always do their best though to purchase at least one present that could be shared amongst us kids. Seeing as how 3 out of 4 kids were boys it usually meant the present was something that normally males would appreciate more. My sister Audrey though was not one to be dismayed by it all and she learned at an early age how to do boy things just as good or even better than us. One Christmas we would get a Crokinole Board and it would become the center of attention throughout the long winter nights with everyone joining in to see who could shoot the best.
Apart from our immediate family we would of course get together with our relatives who also lived on farms around the area. Cousins and close friends would gather at someone's home and while the adults would gather round the table for drinks and card games and lively talks all the kids would play outside until they were either half frozen or they heard the call to come in for supper. It was all so simple then and so uncomplicated. Little did we realize that within a decade or so the intensity and commercialism of today's Christmas season would soon be upon us. Looking back now I can appreciate just how lucky I was to have grown up in that environment and had the opportunity to experience life in that way.