Christmas in Gander
by J Pinsent

For starters, Christmas in Gander was different than any other place in the world back in the 40-60s. With the different regional Nfld customs, mixed in with Canadian & American (even European) customs, it was just a mish mash. For example, where my family came from, it was custom to have salt fish for supper on Christmas Eve. Why? I don't know. My wife & I still do it too this day. All Nflders mummered during the 12 days of Christmas back then. Our mainland friends followed suit. My mother never put the tree up till Christmas eve and it didn't come down till old Christmas day (Jan 6). So when some families did things different during Christmas, a lot of other families did the same thing. I thought it was great.

Mummering (or Jannying, as some folks called it) was a lot of fun for us. Every night we dressed up in some sort of disguise and visited homes where we were invited in and given a treat. They would try to guess who we were. "I know who you are, you walk just like your father. You're young Jackie" they would say. Or, "that looks like your mothers hat you have on there Jackie". Normally we would go out early in the evening, just after supper, and back home again before nine, because the adults would be going out doing the same thing later.

Different homes every night. We would get toffeed apples (mainland tradition) mincemeat pies (English tradition) or a glass of syrup and a piece of fruit cake (Nfld tradition). Of course candy and chocolates were handed out as well. Some homes gave better stuff than others so we would go back there again a couple of nights later. Walked different this time or wore different head gear. You would never reveal you identity unless you were named. If they didn't guess your name than maybe you would try again tomorrow night, if they gave out good stuff. Every now and than you would get "You children were here last night, now run along and torment someone else".

Halloween was a joke compared to this custom. When invited into a person's home, one of the requirements of being politically correct was to compliment the host on the beauty of their Christmas tree. Probably got an extra chocolate if you were convincing. A performance of your talents was sometimes required. You would be asked to sing a song or do a dance. Some of the more traditional hosts would require a performance before giving out a treat.

We would normally visit 3 to 4 homes a night so the group would meet after supper and make up the master plan. The first requirement was to make sure we had a small group. Better chance to get invited in. If we felt there were too many then we would split up into sub groups. The list of homes would be decided upon depending who was in your group. For example Tub or Morley wouldn't be allowed in our group if we were going to visit their homes and visa versa. Talk about diplomatic discussions. Mrs Bursey (Elizabeth's mother) and Mrs. Tapp were my favorites. I got in at least three visits during Christmas to those places. They gave out good stuff.. I liked going to Mrs. Hoddinot's home also, but if she found out you were there more than once, she would bawl you out. And probably tell mom.

Ahh, but the Christmas presents. It all started back in November when the catalogues arrived. There were two catalogues dedicated just for Christmas. Simpson's (later to become Sears) and Eaton's. I devoured those books. Going to school everyday, the main topic would be, what we each planned on asking for, as a Christmas gift. Lud Hodinott, a friend of the family, always gave me a hockey stick for Christmas, from the time I was big enough to play hockey right up to Grade XI.

Christmas morning would finally arrive and the gifts would be opened. You could count on getting just about the same things as you got last year. There were the board games, snakes & ladders, checkers, and Chinese checkers etc. Sometimes, that ridiculous game, Parcheesi. For some reason, every year there was a game of dominoes, given to me by some relative. Never did know how to play the game yet they were there every Christmas. Played with them as building blocks mostly, Lego's weren't invented yet. Also lined them up so they would all fall over in a sequence. I think us kids ( who couldn't play the game) invented the "domino effect".

Got a set of darts one year, they didn't last long. I used to see how far I could throw them, from one side of the apartment to the other. They were stuck into the walls everywhere. My poor old grandmother, who was visiting for Christmas, was a nervous wreck with darts whizzing every where. For some strange reason they disappeared overnight, just after Boxing Day if I remember.

But the best gift I ever got was a "Mecano set".. Much better than the "Log Cabin" building set I had the year before. My father and I spent days building all kinds of things from trucks to power cranes. My mother had the hardest job, picking up all the parts that were laying about everywhere. Especially those little nut and bolts. With the additional upgrades, that set stayed with me for years. Another gift I received one Christmas was a hockey game. You know, the one where you pulled on a lever and all the wooden players moved. I found that same game in my parents attic just a few years ago. My oldest son had it refurbished and it still works to this day.

There were also the sweaters, mitts, scarves etc., which I didn't much consider as gifts but they were wrapped in Christmas paper just like the rest. My first reaction, on Christmas morning, was to shake the gift to see if it would make a noise. If it didn't make a noise, they were last to be opened and the enthusiasm was very low when I started to tear away the paper. "Oh, no. Not another scarf". And my mother would to pick up my Christmas spirit by saying " My! What a nice scarf your Aunt Ruby gave you. That will look so nice on you". My friends were really going to envy this ridiculous object because for sure mom was going to make me wear this to school.

All said and done, I was always thankful for the gifts given me. As my mother would say "Those poor little children in Africa would be very happy to have that lovely scarf". The scarf probably ended up being tied around a telephone pole on my way to school. And later, "But honestly, mom, someone must have stolen it in the cloak room"

Hearing Christmas carols and Bing Crosby's "White Christmas", the taste of fruit cake and the smells of spices and evergreen trees, still bring back those memories of the Christmas's of my youth, growing up in Gander.

 

Morley & I