Sorry I am a day late with my blog. I have had a bout with migraines and sinus, and going to the computer at such times only make the problems worse, but here’s my blog about Christmas years ago.
Today, many spend huge sums on presents, but of course, that wasn’t always so, especially during the Depression. Born in the 1920s, my mother grew up was a girl in the Thirties and part of a family with ten children. They lived on a small farm at a time when the crash of the world economy was made worse on the Canadian prairies by drought, wind and grasshoppers. I suspect that my grandfather was never cut out to be a farmer in the first place, but Grandma had been a pastry chef for a wealthy family in Ontario, so she was a great cook. However, during the Thirties, she had few ingredients for cooking and baking.
Already, in the spring, she began planning for Christmas. She set hens on four turkey eggs, and when the eggs hatched, the children were given the serious responsible of making sure the young turkeys were well fed. In the fall, two turkeys were kept–one for Christmas dinner and the other for dinner on New Years Day—and the other two were sold. The small income gave Grandma the money to buy cloth so she could sew new clothes, especially dresses for the girls to wear at the Christmas concert. Too, she bought dried fruit for her Christmas cake, which she would cut in small pieces so it would last through both Christmas and New Years. And, of course, one piece was always left out for Santa on Christmas Eve, too.
Mom doesn’t remember whether her father cut or purchased the Christmas tree, but it appeared on Christmas morning. Hanging from it were a few old ornaments and the little gifts Grandma had purchased for each child. They were small but treasured by the children, and Mom thinks they might only have cost between 15 and 25 cents each. If so, at a time when a loaf of bread cost between 5 and 10 cents, and a couple might live on $25 a month, such expenditures would have been no small sacrifice.
Like other girls, Mom had always wanted an Eaton’s Beauty doll, but the coveted gift never appeared. Instead, one year, she received a small pink horn that she could blow like a whistle. Another year, she and the sister closest to her age did get small dolls, but they were the only ones that were not make-do dolls created from cloth wrapped around sticks.
In fact, Mom doesn’t remember her own mother and father ever receiving Christmas gifts, but perhaps they did, and if not, I suspect that the children tried especially hard to be helpful and show their thanks during Christmas.
Unlike other times of the year, Christmas and New Years’ dinners did mean turkey with trimmings, and desert was Christmas pudding topped with brown sugar sauce. In fact, throughout my childhood, Mom made a Christmas pudding based on Grandma’s recipe. It was a simple, steamed white-cake-style of pudding made primarily from flour, suet, milk, baking powder, sugar and raisins or currents. Not heavy like way many Christmas puddings, it was delicious, and we loved it. However, of course, our modern awareness of cholesterol and calories have made such puddings less popular today that at a time families were fortunate to enjoy any kind of Christmas pudding.
Unlike today in many households, there were never countless treats throughout the Christmas season, but mom acknowledges that some neighbour families had more during the Christmas season than her own family did. Still, none of the neighbour children ever bragged about their possessions or presents.
I would never want a country or families to experience such economic hardships or uncertainties as families did during the Depression, but revisiting those times is a reminder that the festive season is not simply about lavish gifts or possessions or tables laden with gourmet food, cookies and candy. As much as I love to cook Christmas goodies and buy special presents for family and friends, I am reminded that Christmas has been celebrated in many ways. And being thankful for whatever small gifts we are able to give or might receive is intrinsically part of the Christmas spirit. And for me, learning about my mom experiences of Christmas during the Depression has been a very special gift! So, my thanks to her.