Log Cabin Chronicles

A glorious Gaspé Christmas

POSTED 12.24.00

I don't know if there are people anywhere in the world who know how to celebrate Christmas better than Gaspésians.

From the time of my childhood, I have been convinced of this. I guess it has something to do with the usually abundant snow, evergreen trees dusted white, diamonds glinting everywhere, home-made cooking from Christmas cookies to cranberry sauce to English pudding with rum sauce -- and the time, ah the time, to enjoy each other's company, far from worldly cares.

Time to smell the fir tree in the living room. Time to gather the family in, close, housebound by chilly weather and the enticing smells coming from the oven.

Time to reminisce, play those old tunes, tease each other, remember loved ones no longer with us.

Time to walk to the river and admire the sunset. Time to visit the neighbour's horses and ponies and hanies and cows, and talk to Jim and Marion. Time to take an afternoon catnap, hogging the living room couch as soon as the last occupant leaves it. Time to build a "snow wolf" because the snow is sticky enough to make a big nose!

Time to slow down and let -- for at least a few days -- the demands of jobs and schedules and buses and trains fade far away and leave us in peace.

I am fortunate to be part of a huge extended family, as are most Gaspésians. The Christmas season is the one time of year we never fail to get together. As such it seems hallowed, not only by its Christian significance, but by the ties that have bound us so closely together for so long.

Our immediate family has many unique traditions, but we also gather with cousins, aunts and uncles, neighbours and close friends to spend some magical hours as if suspended somewhere in space, away from all the world.

Those late-night Christmas Eve parties we have held every year since I was a child are a real highlight. We always had a "real" Santa -- a cleverly disguised helpful "elf "-- and my favourite throughout the years was undoubtedly the late Edgar Brash, a quiet, shy man who came alive that one night to the delight of his tiny neighbours.

I regret to say that the first few years I was introduced to Edgar in his other persona, I balled and screamed and ran out of the room in fright! But it didn't take long for me to learn to enjoy Santa's visits.

He was always dressed in red, of course, but with the special touch of an old sleigh harness with jingle bells carried over his shoulders which served to warn us of his imminent approach. And huge fur mitts with which he ruffled our hair.

Believe it or not, though there are no more toddlers in our family, we still have a "real" Santa at our party ever year!

And I will never forget the joy it gave me when we took our pony Billy-Boy out with his sleigh, and dashed through the fields. I can still hear the bells on his antique harness ringing in the crisp air. He loved outings in the winter, and pulled with all his little Shetland might.

Although I feel our family has been particularly blessed, it is obvious all Gaspésians feel the tug of that old-fashioned Victorian feel to it that Christmas often seems to have around here. Every year, the buses and trains can hardly keep up with the hundreds of expatriate Gaspésian who, like homing pigeons, make their way East to keep the winter solstice with loved ones.

I lived away from the Gaspé for more than a dozen years, but no matter where I was, how involved I was in my work and friendships, how long the road home seemed, the heart-strings tugged in December and I would hop on the train for one more of those glorious Gaspé Christmases.

I am heading into my 45th Christmas now, and the enthusiasm hasn't dimmed one bit.

Perhaps one thing has changed, though. In my childhood, the gifts under the tree were the real attraction. I just couldn't get the wrappings off fast enough!

As I have aged, lost grandparents and other family members, and have seen friendships come and go, the real attraction for me now are the gifts around the tree: the members of my family. They are the true treasures of Christmas.

On behalf of all of us at SPEC, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

And may your Christmas treasures come home to be with you!

Cynthia Dow is the former editor of the Gaspé Spec.

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