A reminiscence by Lillian MacCannell of Canoe Cove, Prince Edward Island:
Like many Islanders of a certain age, my early education took place in a one-room schoolhouse, and a highlight of the school year was always the Christmas concert. It was held in the hall next door with its slanted floor and proper stage. We loved the break from schoolwork whenever we went over there to practice.
The program depended on the creativity of the teacher (some teachers enjoyed it more than others) but every child had a part. There were recitations, musical numbers, skits, and the mandatory manger scene with angels, shepherds, sheep, even camels. Our mothers found clothing to suit the parts, and a stock of older items (such as the high button boots my uncle brought home from Toronto) were used for many years.
One year, four of us girls danced the Charleston. We sewed some fringe on tunic dresses—mine was black with a white turtleneck underneath for warmth—and we wore long beads to twirl. We really enjoyed being in that performance!
Shortly before Christmas, Dad would take us back into the woods to choose the perfect tree. If we took too long deciding, Dad decided by swinging his axe at the nearest one. Later, as he set up the tree in a corner of the dining room, we eagerly dug into the boxes of decorations: big electric lights, shiny glass balls, red and gold ropes, and gently-used tinsel.
On Christmas Eve our stockings (Dad’s big gray woolen work socks) were laid out in the parlour. The first child awake on Christmas morning woke the others and we’d rush downstairs to find each stocking bulging with an apple, orange, mixed nuts (in shells), and ribbon candy. One thrill was the book that each of us got with the stocking; I usually finished mine by nightfall. Our presents were clothes, often something handknit, plus a new outfit for school and church: sweaters, blouses and skirts for the girls (once I got a reversible skirt!), and shirts and pants for the boys.
Mom would be up early getting the stove going and preparing the turkey for the oven. When I was older I made the dressing. In late morning we would start preparing vegetables, making cranberry sauce, setting the table. Warm delicious smells wafted through the house and everyone was in and out of the kitchen all day.
After our Christmas feast, we’d head outside with skates and sleds. In my memory there was always lots of snow. If it was stormy we played inside or curled up by the Christmas tree and read our books. I wanted the tree to stay up as long as possible, and usually it lasted until Old Christmas when decorations were carefully wrapped and put away for next year.
From the perspective of a child, Christmas in the Cove was wonderful. We had all the ingredients for an important celebration: family, friends, faith, delicious food. While parents did everything they could to make the season special, no one went into debt over Christmas. Expectations were realistic… and yet… can anything compare to the dreams of a child studying the Eaton’s Christmas catalogue? I’ll never dream like that again.