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A most curious Christmas takes third in holiday story contest

Thank you to all of our readers who chose to share their holiday memories with us, and our readers.

The main thing that stood out about all the entries was the high quality of the writing from all of our storytellers – Beachers surely are a literate bunch. The stories ranged from humourous, to heart-warming, to heart-breaking; picking winners was not an easy task. However, in the end, we had to come to a consensus, and our top three stories were chosen.

Here is the third-place story, A Most Curious Christmas – a reminiscence of a Prairie childhood Christmas, from long-time Beach Triangle resident John Ellis. The other two stories will be featured in our Dec. 18 issue.

By John Ellis
Living on a farm in the almost treeless rolling plains of southern Saskatchewan, where winter often began in September or October and punished us until April or May, some respite was treasured. Christmas was something special. We would buy a fir tree, and hang our colourful, glittering decorations and popcorn strings, and a string of many-hued lights clipped to a car battery hidden behind the tree (we didn’t yet have grid electricity).

The colour and light played against the vast, white emptiness around us was enlivening, giving one the courage to face the next four months of merciless winter.

On Christmas Day 1952, I was 13 years old. After dinner (“lunch” to easterners), we drove to Uncle Abe and Aunt Janet’s farm for supper (“dinner” to those same easterners). Some years this wouldn’t be possible – a blizzard would blow fiercely for days, so clouding visibility that you didn’t dare leave the farmyard.

This Christmas, we were blessed. The winds had blown most of the road clear, and in those sheltered places where snow piled up as hard as concrete and several feet deep, farm tractors had plowed a path. We would not have to subject dad, with his crippling arthritis, to a long, cold sleigh ride. Mom’s brother Bob and his family would be there. It would be a joyous family gathering.

There was just one problem. I was “just about” fully recovered from chicken pox. The only vestige was a few scabs, which I had been told to leave alone because picking them off would leave scars. So I picked them off. (I still have the scars to prove it.)

When we arrived, Aunt Janet met mom at the door for a discussion. She was worried that my younger cousin would catch the disease from me. Mom protested that it wasn’t possible, I was past the contagious stage, but Aunt Janet insisted that I be quarantined in the bedroom off the dining room!

The only saving grace was that the door was left open. I could see and hear the party swirling around the dining room – Uncle Bob now in his cups, competing for the best story, the women surging in and out from the kitchen, laying on the bounteous feast – but I couldn’t be part of it.

Mom and Aunt Janet dutifully took turns visiting with me and, when supper was ready, brought me a generous helping. Then there was the distribution of gifts – probably the hardest experience of all as I wanted to be Santa’s helper as always before. How I wanted to be able to open my gift in my cousin’s company, to assess whose was better.

Finally it was over. We donned our heavy winter outerwear and went out into the starlit, crystal-clear, Christmas night to wend our way home, with the moon bathing the whole countryside in a soft, blue light, and somewhere inside, we were thankful for all of the good things. Finally the most curious Christmas of my life was over.


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