As a child in the 90's, we had so much fun at Christmas. I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents Ron and Joyce McEachern helping my grandma decorate the tree and set up her Christmas village in the window. Christmas Eve was spent at my grandmother Linda Bailey's (nee Armstrong) home for the Armstrong family Christmas party. It was always a nice time, especially since these Christmas photos are some of the only photos I have of my great-grandmother Rita Armstrong and I together.
On Christmas Day, my grandparents and great-grandmother on the McEachern side would all come over in the morning to watch my brother and I open our gifts.
Then my dad's sister, Sharon Condren would bring my cousins Shane and Mitchell over and we would all have dinner and play with our new toys. Want to know something funny? See the burgundy striped wrapping paper under my great-grandmother's legs? My parents bought a huge roll of that wrapping paper in 1987. 33 years later and they are STILL using it with no end in sight! It has become an iconic part of our family Christmas.
Boxing Day was then reserved for the Bailey family Christmas. My great-grandparenta Ted and Christina, my grandma Linda and my grandfather's siblings (he passed away in 1990) would all come over for delicious dinner cooked by my mother. I feel incredibly lucky to have such amazing memories with each side of my family.
“But how will Santa find me if I’m in Florida?”
That was a question I found myself asking my parents at a young age while en route driving through Michigan to Ohio from Kentucky from Tennessee to Georgia all the way to the first palm tree sighting in Florida.
Coming from a full family of principles, professors and teachers – it was the perfect recipe for a regularly scheduled Family Christmas Holiday to Florida touting full attendance on all fronts including first, second and third cousins, aunts, uncles and of course family friends who caught wind of the trend and wanted to join the party. Before we knew it, we were pretty much taking over the entire condominium and pool area!
Naples at that time was perfect for what we all needed during the holiday break – a warm oasis from the cold winter to connect and be together, to take in the ocean air and be grateful for all the abundance the year had blessed us with.
Fast forward 30 years to when all those cousins had children. It was unanimously decided to reinvigorate the tradition and share all of those incredible childhood memories with their little ones.
From hours of fishing in the “best spots” to strolls down 5th Avenue, to taking in all the beautiful Christmas decorations at the shops, to swimming the days away Naples looked very different than it had all those years ago a now bougie high-end destination but the foundation remains… the perfect place for connecting with family and friends and yes Santa always finds us.
For me Christmas in Milton in the 70's was a special time, although Christmas day was the most important day, it was the entire season that encapsulates my memories.
I was very young, Christmas is usually pretty magical at that age, and looking back now as an adult, I realize we really were blessed beyond measure. Our little town of Milton was the perfect backdrop to capture the comfort of the season. For us, the kick-off to Christmas started with the Milton Santa Claus Parade, I remember being on a Christmas Nativity float with about 30 other kids, we were all dressed as angels, our costumes consisted of very itchy silver garland subbing as Halos and belts and white sheets draped over our winter snowsuits, It was the standard angel costume attire of our time but despite it's practicality, it seemed to have no impact when it came to keeping us all warm enough. It felt like it was the coldest day of my life but at the end of the day, the reward was hot chocolate and candy canes so the ordeal was soon forgotten. A trip to Milton mall for a visit with Santa was next on the Christmas agenda as well as holiday shopping in downtown Milton.
Where might you ask, would one shop in downtown Milton in the seventies? well my cousin Pauline was quick to recall "there was Flora shop ladies wear, Bus Knights, Sellrite, Newman's footwear, Peggy's, Brancier a hardware store and of course the drug store " to name but a few.
On Christmas Day the family (aunts, uncles, and cousins - the Moores, Vaughans, and McDuffees) would all gather at the home of my Grandparents Edith and Nelson Pickett on Sarah St.
We always dressed in our "Sunday best" for Christmas Day, my Grandmother and the ladies of the family often wore corsages, my grandfather donned his red Christmas vest for the occasion. My grandmother was a superior cook, she made everything festive, she made everything special. I distinctly remember her my homemade maple walnut fudge, made straight from the Walnut trees of Victoria Park, older cousins were always around to keep a watchful eye on the younger ones, there was music playing, and gifts exchanged but above all else, I just remember the warmth love, and joy in that house.
The week between Christmas and New Years was a carry over of celebrations all coming to a close in January when the town collected the Christmas trees and burned them in a huge open bonfire at the Fairgrounds.
Memory from my Aunt Anne
"I was very busy in the seventies with my 5 little children, Mom always set a beautiful table with a Christmas centerpiece and red tapers. The dinner was always at noon and plated in the kitchen by a few of us. Often supper on Christmas Day was turkey on a bun. Aunt Mary (Hutchison) was always there to help Mom and do the dishes"
Memory from my Aunt Blanche
" Christmas festivities continued till the day after New Year, Our family usually hosted a family New Year Birthday party for mom who was a New Year's Eve Baby and was attended by family and close friends. New Years Dinner was at 171 Sarah St. Mom cooked another Turkey Dinner often attended by Aunt Mary, Uncle Tommy, Uncle Dick from Guelph and the Marshall's from Eden Mills. Everyone stayed for Supper. Egg salad, cheese turkey & buns followed by plates of homemade cookies and fruit salad, at our place was a paper cup covered with red and green foil filled with candy and mixed nuts at night we would sing songs, tell stories, and watch home movies. Sometimes mom and dad played their violins"
Memory from my Aunt Mary
"In the seventies Peter was playing hockey in the US so, we were only home in 1978 and 1979. I do have some photos and lots of wonderful memories but I think I was probably too busy corralling my kids to take pictures."
When my grandmother passed away my Aunt and Uncle started hosting the "Pickett Christmas" at their home in town, the family has grown to over 50+ now and like many of you this year due to the pandemic, we will have to find other ways to connect. I'm not exactly sure what we will do but perhaps you might just find me taking a walk downtown with a hot beverage in hand on a perfect snowy December evening, thinking about Christmas with gratitude and reflection.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Good Heath, and much Happiness this Holiday Season!
Each house, a seemingly impenetrable fortress in the snow, was, like the crisp evening air, pierced by their voices.
Their faces, barely distinguishable because of the darkness of the unlit street, were partially covered by hats, scarves and, occasionally, their mitten-covered hands.
Their renditions of any well-known Christmas song, which they sang from sheets, books and pages from books begged, borrowed or stolen from piano benches, opened up any fortress they had the will to march up to. The darkness and biting cold associated with winter seemed to disappear for a moment at every doorway where the group performed.
I was a member of that group -- the Given Road West carollers. My membership came more as a result of coercion than anything else. I owe my association with this group to two circumstances beyond my control -- my mother was the organizer and I lived on the street where the group performed. To the best of my knowledge, this was the only group of its kind in Milton at the time.
My mother loved then and still loves today the music the Christmas season brings with it. The Given Road West carollers came about one Christmas eve in the mid-60s, mere hours before the arrival of Grandma Challinor from Chatham, when mom got the Given Road West neighbourhood kids together for a sing-along. Her idea was spontaneous and, after a few minutes on the telephone with neighbouring parents, the show was ready to hit the road.
The group, which ranged in numbers from 12 to 20 and in age from 9 to 16, met in our basement at 6:30 p.m., went out for a good two hours of singing and walking along Given Road West between Bronte Street and Tremaine Road, and returned to the basement. There, my father and grandmother had hot chocolate and too many doughnuts waiting for us all. This became a neighbourhood tradition for ten years.
Neighbourhood families also contributing singers to the group over the years included the Brush's, Christie's, Corp's, Cross's, Francey's, Furlan's, Herron's, Phillips', Scott's and Wilson's, For a few years, the late Bob Collins, Sr., followed the carolling later in the evening in his less-known persona -- Santa Claus -- complete with candy canes and a few other Christmas goodies.
Talking to my now 91-year-old mother the other night about the carollers, she said the group performed many functions. They got everybody in the Christmas spirit. Leaving their homes permitted their parents some time to get ready for the next day (and hide a few gifts). The event exemplified the fellowship and goodwill that the season is all about. And, in some cases, the carolling and walking helped an anxious and excited kid to get to sleep that night.
Looking back at the effort (which the late Bill Phillips said deserved an 'A'), it was appreciated by all who shared in it. It also included special chocolates made by the late Bea Cross, resounding applause from the late Herb Higgs and more hot chocolate and cookies from Reg and and the late Dorothy Corp (if you ever saw the length of their driveway, you'd understand). All of this spontaneous generosity simply served to say thank-you, we really appreciate what you have done.
So, what happened to the old Given Road West carollers? They grew up.
(Excerpted, edited and updated from a column that was published in the pages of The Canadian Champion, December 23, 1981)
John Challinor II
Milton Historical Society
When I think of the magic of Christmas I remember how it was when I was very little and I believed in Santa and everything centred around family traditions.
Being one of the first Baby Boomers, everything changed after the war. Our family lived in North Bay but my father, an Officer in the Air Force, was stationed in Winnipeg during the war.
At war’s end his roommate, Elmer Diefenbaker, suggested we relocate to Saskatoon Saskatchewan where the opportunities for a hotshot salesman were endless. Elmer, a bachelor, lived with his mother in a lovely old area near the University and there just happened to be a home for sale across the back alley. So when I was 6 weeks old, our family of 5 and Elmer arrived by train to begin a new life, not knowing another person in Saskatoon.
After 6 years of war, separation and rationing, the late 40’s and 50’s were a time of renewal and hope. It seemed that everyone was from somewhere else and so our holiday traditions were created with neighbours, the Church, and the various Service Clubs my father joined.
Christmas was a time to bring out all the finery and indulge in the sweets that rationing had prevented. I remember the elaborate United Church women’s auxiliary teas where we children were taught to serve tiny sandwiches and squares.
Every year a huge parcel from my North Bay grandparents would arrive. Amongst other gifts there would be new flannelette pajamas sewn by my Grandmother and a Laura Secord butterscotch sucker for each granddaughter. But the most exciting thing was the packing!
My Grandfather, an avid reader of newspapers, saved all the pages about the famous Dionne Quintuplets, born near North Bay in1934, to pack around our parcels. We would carefully spread out the pages on the floor and wonder at their photos over the years not understanding the reality of how they had been exploited
Every year on Christmas Day afternoon we would visit the Diefenbaker’s for a little Christmas cheer. Elmer and his mother would be joined by brother John, who would become Canada’s 13th prime minister in 1957, and his wife. I was too young to remember his first wife but Olive, who he married in 1953, was the just the kindest woman midst all the talk of politics. Christmas dinners were shared with various other families who were also without relatives.
We moved to Toronto in 1957 and started a whole new life leaving my sister Ann behind to finish her nursing degree and marry. By then, I was a sulky teenager…enough said.
With every move we’ve made, we’ve kept some traditions but added new ones to pass along to our families. This year will be different but we have a whole bundle of wonderful memories to carry us through to next Christmas. I hope you will take the time to reflect on all the good memories of Christmas past …this too shall pass.
All the best for 2021,