Memories of Christmas Past

Still from a video shot by Mrs Brennan, shot around 1956 – 59 at the Alvinston Santa Claus Parade (corner of River Street and Railroad)

When I worked at the Standard Guide Advocate each year around Christmas we were asked to collect personal Christmas stories, poems etc from folks in the community. Some of those stories came from Brooke Central School, quite often written from the question “What Christmas means to me?” with teacher Andy Triest’s encouragement. With Christmas being such a busy time for everyone and having to rely on others to put pen to paper, the task was a challenge every year. It was a task I looked forward to every year.

Approaching this Christmas I decided I would like to continue that tradition of asking local folks for some of their Christmas memories , photos, stories and videos. I plan to continue this each year, although I will pursued this project all year, hoping to get more responses when the timing isn’t so busy.

This film was taken at the Alvinston Christmas parade approximately around the years of 1956 -59. The video was taken by Jean Brennan, John Brennan’s mother. The parade would have taken place on a Saturday so John’s dad, Jim Brennan, would not have been present as he was never home on Saturdays John’s whole life.

What’s amazing for me is seeing the town, the buildings that are no longer there. The floats, the clowns, and how Santa stopped to hand out presents to the crown in front of what now is the Municipal Office and Post Office. The film starts at the corner Railroad Street and turning onto River Street where once was The Molson’s Bank and then the Egg Grading Station. The film also shows floats going the opposite way down River from Centre Street past what is now the Alvinston Legion and Clover Mart. Thank you to the Brennan family for allowing me to post this.

Alvinston Santa Claus Parade, 1950’s – Brennan Family Collection

This is a Christmas memory my friend Ruth Leitch wrote when she was a reporter as a part of the Christmas Memories. This story was shared with me by Ruth’s daughter, Dawn McNally.

“Memories are what make us the the people we have become. Some of my Christmas memories are the happiest I have and each year I relive some of them.

I remember hanging a stocking near the Christmas tree before going to bed on Christmas Eve. That was one day of the year that we didn’t have to be told twice to get to our rooms. We would not do anything to get in the way of Santa coming.

The tree would be one that Dad cut from the top of the big spruce trees that grew in front of our house. Several days earlier we would have watched as he climbed up and cut off about eight feet from the top of the one that looked best from the ground. It would come tumbling to the ground for us to drag into the house. I recall once there was a little owl all huddled up in the branches and properly scared for his rough ride down. He snapped at my hand when I tried to touch him. It’s amazing how quick he was. My finger bled, it hurt but I was too fascinated to cry.

My sister and brother with my Mom’s instructions decorated the tree with popcorn strings and red and green paper chains and put a star or angel on top adding lots of tinsel. It always stood in a bucket of water that we were responsible to keep filled.

There would be presents on Christmas morning, not a lot but enough to make us very happy;and the orange and some of the pretty hard candy and maybe a pencil or a little book in our socks. Sometimes the gifts were homemade. My sister told visitors to her eightieth birthday party last month that we once got dolls alike except for the colour of their eyes; mine were blue and hers were brown and they would sleep or be awake. She became angry with me and poked the eyes back into my dolls head. Mother said nothing, just traded the Dallas so I had the brown eyed doll. Mary thought it wasn’t fair. Of course Mother mended Mary’s doll but it’s eyes wouldn’t close anymore.

Those dolls had little beds . In my grown-up life I know they were made from six quart baskets. They also had bedding that included a quilt and I know that Mother had an apron made from the same material. That’s amazing too.

This Christmas share your memories with a child, or even adults, anyone who wants to listen. You will never quite be the same, in a very good way, for that makes memories too.

Ruth Leitch (left), Christmas Passport 2021 at The Church, Art Studio of Liana Russwurm

This story was shared from Chad Hayter from a book written by Gordon McEachern, from his memories called More Recollections and was printed by the Aylmer Express Limited , Aylmer Ontario in 1991.

The Christmas Concert

I was in my last year at school, or the fourth class as they called it then. I had got lucky, and had a lovely teacher, Miss Ada McPherson. She was the enthusiastic type, so when time came for planning the Christmas Concert in the latter part of November, she went right ahead.
Recitations for almost everyone, lots of songs, and, of course, a play for the older ones. Being the romantic type, it would have to be a romantic play. The girl sitting across the aisle and I got the leading roles. As I said, a romantic play with a very romantic ending! I daresay the way we were playing didn’t look very romantic.
Then one day it happened. We were up on the platform doing the final act. When we walked to our seats, the school seemed strangely silent. Then the teacher said, “Oh if you could only do it like that every time.” I glanced across the aisle and the girl did seem to have a different expression. I whispered, “Did I say the right words or did
I say what I thought?” She smiled, blushed beautifully, and said nothing. From then on, I made sure that I said the words of the play.
Of course, almost everyone had a recitation and there would be two or three songs. Once the date was set, excitement really mounted. They usually just extended the low school platform, but this year they decided to go for the high one. Lumber and material seemed to appear magically, but was probably the result of much hard work and planning. How did they put the piano on the high platform? I don’t know, but it was there. We had to have both front and side curtains. A couple of men arrived one day to help. They didn’t have a stepladder. Maybe they didn’t own one. They simply handed me the hammer and a staple and hoisted me high above their heads for me to fasten the wire to the wall. The curtains were strung on the wire with a repeat perfor-
mance at the other side.
Everything was about as ready as it usually is for an amateur show, but she had chosen good prompters and the forgot were barely noticeable. A Rokeby Concert just couldn’t go on without Archie Lindsay on his fiddle and Hector McLean chording. They, of course, got the usual wild encore.
The ending of the programme was followed by the arrival of Santa, with much bell-ringing and hand clapping, dressed up with beard and the pillow for a stomach. Helpers handed out the presents and told him the names. Everyone got at least two or three presents.
Finally it was time to go home. Wood fires are hard to control, and by that time it was, of course, much too hot. We were all glad to get into our heavy clothing and head for home. The big Clydesdales tied to the fence would be quite cold, even under their heavy woollen blankets. They would have gone home at a gallop, but were held to a trot by the driver sitting up high on a seat with springs under it. The rest of us were sitting on boards resting on the heavy side planks with our feet in the straw.
The pure white snow, no dust to discolour it, the merrily jingling bells were something you just can’t forget. The horses would be unhitched, unharnessed and get extra oats and nice hay as their reward.
The school would be a busy place for the rest of the winter, with debates, concerts and community plays.
People can organize as much as they like, but they can’t compete with an old time school section, with someone living on every hundred, and maybe some on fifties.

Mom talks about cutting a Christmas tree down.I remember there was a man come to our farmhouse selling Christmas trees and my Dad would have him get every tree out of the truck and stand it up as we looked on to choose a tree. He would notice one with a hole in it and that was the one he chose. We always had a beautiful tree with lots of those silver icicles plastered all over it, probably more at the bottom than the top as we decorated it ourselves.
We also got the orange in the toe of our socks. I remember getting a beautiful doll with long white silky hair from Santa. We would also hang our own socks for Santa to fill. None of these fancy ones we have now. I do remember going around the house and finding the biggest sock available. I thought because mine were so tiny Santa wouldn’t be able to put much in mine so I borrowed my dads.
I used to love to go to my aunt and uncles homes for Christmas. One Christmas my brother and I got police and ambulance cars with loud sirens from my uncle. My dad asked us to go play with them behind the chair. It happened to be my uncle’s chair!
The Christmas meal was always so delicious with everyone gathered around and so many treats.”

– Dawn McNally

An early Christmas memory shared with me from Ruth Leitch in a book she began writing them down in – 2021

“When I was about three and a half years old, Aunt Mabel came to our house for Christmas dinner and an exchange of gifts with Mother’s family. I remember Aunt Mabel looking at me and then asking Mother, “Where did you get this one? She doesn’t look like the rest!”

I didn’t say anything but thought about it many times. I finally found that I didn’t look like the rest because I look like Grandma Dodd and the others are Sifton’s, in looks at least!”

The above photos were taken by Ruth Leitch on November 26th 1999 at the Christmas decorating party At Hope United Church. Thank you to Jim Breen for sharing these Christmas memories.

Two more films shared with me from the John and Elaine Brennan collection. From John’s family growing up. There is a little washed out parts on some of the film but the memories and atmosphere is still there.

Jim and Jean Brennan Family Christmas
Jim and jean Brennan Family Christmas
Matt, Tim and Dan Brennan with their Grandmother Jean in blue behind

“From when our kids were born until they were no longer living in our home mom used to come over before the first morning light to make sure she didn’t miss the kids opening their gifts from Santa. As they got older and slept in she would wake us up arriving well ahead of our teenagers getting out of bed. The kids still find that very amusing.”
– Dawn McNally

Ruth Leitch’s grandkids – she told me she liked to take a photo of them all each Christmas

To end Memories of Christmas Past I am adding this year’s walking tour I took of Alvinston’s Christmas Lights. It is fast becoming g one of my favourite things about Christmas in this community that I look forward to each year and will be ingrained in my memories in to the future. It is also part of the Alvinston Optimists Home Lighting Competition where they award a 1st place ($500), 2nd place ($350), 3rd place ($250) and a Peoples Choice award ($100) to the winners. Each year more houses light up to have a chance at winning and it is fast becoming a very anticipated part of the holiday season. This year’s winners (2022) are 1st Place went to Nancy Coleman at 7958 Railroad St., 2nd Place went to Leanne and Dan Funk at 3107 Broadway St., 3rd Place -went to Tom Scott at 3259 River St. and the “Peoples Choice” was awarded to Jay McArthur 3281 Walnut St.


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