Saturday, 19 December 2015

A Tale of Christmas . . .

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Normally I would do a how to spend a week post today, but you really don't want to read about how much pain I have been in do you, so I am going to do something a tiny bit different this morning, and see if we can't all get in a Christmassy mood . . .  so curl up in that big chair next to the fire, gather a blanket over your lap and settle in . . .

"As we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons that they bring,expands!  Let us welcome every one of them, and summon them to take their places by the Christmas hearth."
~Charles Dickens 

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Victoria Christmas weather was always nippy ... generally there was snow.  We sewed presents for weeks before Christmas came ... kettle holders, needle books, penwipers and cross-stitch bookmarkers.  Just before Christmas we went out into the woods, cut down a fir tree and brought it home so alive that the warm house fooled it into thinking spring had come, and it breathed delicious live pine smell all over the house.   We put fir and holly behind all the pictures and on the mantelpiece and everywhere.

Plum puddings were dangling from under the pantry shelf by the tails of their boiling cloths.   A month ago we had all sat round the breakfast room table, stoning raisins while someone read a story aloud.   Everyone had given the pudding a good luck stir before it went into the bowls and was tied down and boiled for hours in the copper wash boiler while spicy smells ran all over the house.  On Christmas Day the biggest pudding came out for a final boil before being brought to the table with brandy fire leaping up its sides from the dish, and with a sprig of holly scorching and crackling on top.

Christmas Eve Father took us into town to see the shops lit up.  Every lamp post had a fir tree tid to it ... not corpsy old trees but fresh cut firs.  Victoria streets were dark; this made the shops look all the brighter.  Windows were decorated with mock snow made of cotton wool and diamond dust.  Drygoods shops did not have much that was Christmassy to display except red flannel and rabbit fur baby coats and muffs and tippets.  Chemists had immense globes of red, green and blue medicine hanging from brass charms in their shop windows.  I wished some of us could be sick enough for Mr. Helmeken to prescribe one of the splendid globes for us.   The chemists also showed coloured soap and fancy perfume in bottles.  Castor oil in hideous blue bottles peered from behind nice Christmas things and thew out hints about overeating and stomach ache.   A horrid woman once told my mother tht she let her children eat everything they wanted on Christmas Day and finished them up with a big dose of castor oil.  Mr. Hibben, the stationer, was nicer than that woman and the chemist.  He had all the school books behind story books left open at the best pictures.  He had "Merry Christmas" in cotton wool on red cardboard in his window.

It was the food shops that Merry Christmassed the hardest.  In Mr Saunder's, the grocer's, window was a real Santa Claus grinding coffee.  The wheel was bigger than he was.  He had a long beard and moved his hands and his head.   As the wheel went round the coffee beans went in, got ground and came out, smell and all.  In the window all round Santa were bonbons, cluster raisins, nuts and candied fruit, besides long walking sticks made of peppermint candy.  Next to this splendid window came Goodacre's horrible butcher shop ... everything in it dead and naked.  Dead geese and turkeys waggled, head down; dead beeves, calves and pigs straddled between immense meat hooks on the walls; naked sheep had bunches of coloured paper where their heads ought to have been and flowers and squiggles carved in the fat of their backs.  Creamers that still had their heads on stared out of eyes like poached eggs when the white has run over the yolk.  Baby pigs looked worst of all ... pink and naked as bathing babies, their cheeks drawn back to make them smile at the red apples which had been forced into their toothless, sucking mouths.The shop floor was strewn deep in sawdust to catch blood drips.  You heard no footsteps in the shop, only the sharpening of knives, sawing of bones, and bump, bump of the scale.   Everybody was examining meat and saying, "Compliments of the Season" to everyone else,   Father saying, "Fine display Goodacre, very fine indeed!"  We children rushed out and went back to Santa while Father chose his meat.

The shop of old George, the poulterer, was nearly as bad as Goodacre's, only the dead things did not look so dead, nor stare so hard having shut the grey lids over their eyes to die.   They were limp in necks and stiff in legs.  As most of them had feathers on they looked like birds still, whereas the butcher's creatures had been rushed at once from life to meat.

The food shops ended the town and after that came Johnson Street and Chinatown, which was full of black night.  Here we turned back towards James' Bay, ready for bed.

There was a high mantlepiece in the breakfast room.  And while we were hanging our stockings from it my sister read:

"Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."

On the way to bed we could smell our Christmas tree waiting in the dining room.  The room was all dark but we knew that it stood on the floor and touched the ceiling and that it hung heavy with presents; ready for tomorrow.  When the lights were lit there would be more of them than any of us children could count.   We would all take hands and sing carols round the tree.  Bong would come in and look with his mouth open.   There was always things on it for him but he would not wait to get his presents.  He would run back to his kitchen and we would take them to him there.  It seemed as if Bong felt too Chinese to Christmas with us in our Canadian way.

Present giving was only done to members in one's immediate family.  Other's you gave love and a card to, and kissed the people you did not usually kiss.

~Emily Carr, A Little Town and a Little Girl
(Emily Carr's childhood memories bring vividly to life the shops and streets of the then little town of Victoria at Christmastime, before the town became a city.) 

  A little taste of Christmas past for you this Saturday morning, the last before Christmas 2015.

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Wind blow;
sing low
for our darling
born this morning.

Life's new Spring,
peace will bring
and joy to move
men's hearts to love.
~Gillian Ferns  

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Baking in The English Kitchen today  . . .  Cranberry and Pinenut Biscotti.

Have a great Saturday.  Hope you are able to get all the things done that you need to get done and that you have a lovely day.  We have our Ward Christmas Party tonight.  Not sure if I am up to going or not.  We will see.   In the meantime, don't forget!

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And I do too!


  1. Oh dear Marie my heart goes out to,you being in such pain and being so uncomfortable, I just wish somthing could be done for you even if it were just to ease the pain a bit...thank you for even attempting to write for us this morning, you must feel so weary. I hope that you can maybe rest today and then you will go to the Ward Party it might do you good just to get out and be with other people for a wee while even if you don't stay till the end...hope you got my e mail with the photographs ......take care dear friend you know we are surrounding you with prayers xxx

  2. Good morning darling Marie,

    I am sorry that the week has been pure misery. I am sure the days and nights have been long. Thank you for making such a huge effort to share the story with us. There is something that seems so right to have cold at Christmas with all that rich food we share. I loved it. I personally would advise you to stay at home. I am sure you would love to see everyone but I would hate for you to catch something else. But the choice is yours. Do not feel badly if you miss it or only go for a 'wee while'. Has your doctor told you if you are contagious? Because before anit viral medication the blister stage was considered contagious. Or that is what I was taught.

    God bless you and keep you safe in his love.

  3. It's actually good for me to be distracted a bit and the writing helps with that Sybil, even though my arm does hurt. I am going to make my tortiere for Christmas today. I did the filling yesterday. I will rest then before tonight. I doubt we will stay long. I did get your lovely e-mail (s) with the photos! I just haven't responded yet. Sorry about that! Love you and thanks for the prayers! They are much appreciated! xoxo

    Thanks Suzan. I doubt we will stay long tonight. I am not contagious now I don't think, the sores have started to scab over I think, but I am not entirely sure, but was told so long as I keep them covered I will be okay. Just to stay away from anyone who has a immunity problem or cancer, etc. Love and hugs. xoxo

  4. I loved hearing about the Victorian Christmas. Hoping you can go to your party.

  5. Lovely iimages to go w/ your story..
    You know..I always make our meat pies w/ Caro..but I thought next yr we should make the filling the day before..and fill the dough w/ cold filling..we had one delicious as always..but I think you did good.
    take care..take care..

  6. Thanks Monique, I am sure your pies turned out nicer than mine have! I tried a new pastry recipe and I am not entirely happy with it! It will be okay, but I should have stuck with my tried and true. xoxo

  7. Poor Marie, it sounds like you are in the thick of it. It does get better, though I know it's hard to sit out the pain until another pill is due. I found a cooling gel helpful; BIOFREEZE is good, you can get it on the internet.
    On a lighter note, did you know that the house in the background of the Beatrix Potter picture you posted is quite near you ? GWAENYNOG in the Denbigh area. The garden used to be open to the public. They created a Peter Rabbit style vegetable garden. Miss Potter had stayed there many years ago.


Your comments mean the world to me, and while I may not be able to address each one individually, each one is important to me and each one counts. Thanks so much!