Monday April 21, 2014

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Fond memories of Christmases past

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Sarah Harder stands next to the tree at her suite inside Creighton Lodge in Estevan. She has wonderful memories of Christmas in the past, and continues to enjoy Christmas celebrations with her family each year.

Sarah Harder has always loved Christmas.

Harder, who is a resident of Creighton Lodge in Estevan, recalls the days when she was a child growing up in the south-central Manitoba community of Gretna. Her family would travel 16 kilometres, via a horse-drawn sleigh, to visit her grandparents for Christmas.

"It was nice," said Harder. "There were lots of us. We always had a good supper with turkey, and there were all the trimmings to go with it."

Christmas celebrations were simpler in those days, she said. The gifts that they received would be small and practical. Lengthy Christmas wish lists were non-existent. Chimneys were not hung by the chimney in her home; rather, Santa Claus was asked to place gifts inside bowls sitting on a table.

"In there we would have an orange and an apple, and something else," said Harder. "There would be a pair of socks or mittens or other things that you could wear."

Sometimes Harder or her eight siblings might receive a little toy, such as a doll. She recalls that her brother once received a truck. But they weren't big toys, or anything elaborate.

She would also have to learn Bible verses for Christmas.

"We would go stand beside grandma and grandpa, and we would say the verses, and afterwards they would give us a quarter," said Harder.

Harder said that she and some friends from Creighton Lodge recently reminisced about Christmas from when they were young, and they lamented the changes that have occurred with the holiday over the years.

They also miss the Christmas concerts, she said. The trees weren't adorned with Christmas lights like they are now; when Harder was in school, they were decorated with candles.

Snow was plentiful in those days, too, she said. Snow banks were as high as the trees. But she doesn't recall a year in which bad weather on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day forced them to cancel plans to travel to her grandparents.

Harder remained in southern Manitoba until 1966, when she, her husband and their children moved to Bienfait. They eventually relocated to Estevan.

But she still finds her way back to Manitoba each December. Harder, her siblings and other family members all gather in Altona, which is near Gretna, for a Christmas family reunion that's so big they have to rent a hall.

"There are nine of us, and we're all still here," said Harder. "We all get together, and have a good meal, and sing songs and talk about things."

Forty-four family members attended this year's gathering, she said. Last year there were more than 60.

Harder will spend Christmas Eve with her son's family, and she said it will be a full house. Christmas Day will be with her daughter and family.

Hazel Baker is another Creighton Lodge resident who has wonderful memories of a simpler, more old-fashioned Christmas. Her strongest recollections revolve around the religious aspects of the holiday.

Baker grew up on a farm that was 13 kilometres north and eight kilometres west of Estevan. Each year, her father would hook up the horses to a sleigh, and the family would travel about two kilometres to church. One year in particular stands out; Baker said she was nine at the time.

"It was cold,” said Baker. “I felt so sorry for the horse, because I could see the breath coming out of his nose when he was pulling."

Then there was the year that her family set up an imitation Christmas tree.

"We had crate paper, and we cut and make streamers to go around the branches," said Baker. "And we made red bells with red coloured cardboard.

"I can also remember getting the tree all decorated, and then waiting for our Christmas presents. At night, when we were in bed, mom would put them under the tree."

Baker also has fond memories of Christmas concerts at the small rural schools. The farmers would hook up their horses to the sleighs, and travel to hear the children sing. The performances were great, she said.

Times were tough when she was a child, and her family didn't have much. She would receive a pair of knitted socks, or some other form of a simple gift.

Turkey was served for supper, but her family had another mainstay for food during the Christmas season.

Baker's father immigrated to Canada from Sweden. And so they had a Swedish potato dumpling served with supper.

"They were a grated potato," said Baker. "They were made with a little pork in the middle, then made into a little ball, and boiled in hot water, and it was so good. We'd eat it with a little bit of butter on it."

But that was the extent of their Swedish Christmas customs.

Eventually, Baker got married and had children, and more Christmas memories would be created. She would knit sweaters or socks for her children for Christmas, but times were still tough financially, she said.

Baker left the big, elaborate Christmas celebrations to another member of her family.

"My twin sister, she had six children, and she went all out at Christmas time. She would decorate the windows and all the way around," Baker said. "The whole front room was decorated. She did a lovely job."

Baker's three children live in B.C., so she will be spending Christmas at Creighton Lodge this year. There will be a few other lodge residents with her. Last year they had a lovely turkey dinner, she said, and they sang Christmas carols, so Baker is looking forward to a Creighton Lodge Christmas this year.

 


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