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Reader Recollections.

Some recollections of Christmases from a couple of our readers.

From Gary in North Vancouver, BC.

I've got a couple of my own Canadian Christmas stories. I often don't tell the first one because I usually come out looking like a bit of a goof, and it actually takes place on New Year's eve, but I believe it fits the season. It's kind of long, but here goes.

Just a scant two months after I got my driver's license, I decided to drive north on December 31 for a visit with my eldest brother and his family, who were living at that time on the Douglas Lake Cattle ranch (there's a Woodwards connection!) outside of Merritt, BC. The weather was ideal -- clear and sunny most of the way -- and I chose the less-travelled route at the time: Highway 3 (I think) via Princeton, because I didn't want to be intimidated by heavy traffic.

The only difficulty I encountered for most of the trip was having the windshield washer lines freeze up, so I couldn't clean the windshield whenever other traffic kicked up that muddy, filthy road spray. I remember I stopped at least four or five times to moisten the grime with snow so the wipers would work.

I had just crested a hill near a viewpoint overlooking Merritt and the Nicola Valley when I realized that this part of the road had not had the sun shining on it all day, and it was covered in black ice. The car began sliding to the right where the road started to bend left and I found myself looking at a 30-foot drop down a steep embankment. I forgot all my driving-school training and cranked the wheel hard to the left just as the right-side tires hit the gravel shoulder. This naturally gave the right side more traction, so the car rapidly veered back onto the traveled portion of the road. Unfortunately, I was now driving perpendicular to the direction I wanted, so I cranked the wheel hard to the right. Too late! The car did a nose-dive off the other side of the road -- a drop of a mere six feet -- landing on its right front corner. I bounced off the roof and must have blacked out, because the next thing I remember is the car is laying on its right side and I am hanging suspended by the seat belt and shoulder harness, peering out the front windshield of this my first car, my baby, and seeing a clear liquid leaking out of the engine. Being a fan of action movies where a wrecked car always blows up in a huge fireball, I quickly unsnapped my seat belt and clambered out the driver's side door onto what was now the top of my car. Imagine my astonishment to see the RCMP pulling up to lend assistance. How did they get there so quickly? A dad and his kids were playing hockey on a nearby frozen lake when they heard the crash. He had got on his CB radio and notified the police!

The constable took me to the hospital in Merritt to make sure I was OK. I made the embarrassing phone calls to the family and waited for my brother to drive in from the ranch to get me. By the time he got there, a tow truck had rescued my car from its chilly roadside resting place, so we went to get the Xmas gifts and stuff out of it. Everything had survived the ordeal relatively unscathed, even the dozen hockey sticks I had brought for kids at the ranch.

After arriving at the house and getting a nice, hot, home-cooked meal in me, I asked when we were going skating on the lake. I had never skated on a frozen lake before, having grown up in the Big City. It was by now nearly bedtime for my nephew and nieces, and my brother was too tired, so I headed out by myself, skates slung over one shoulder, hockey stick over the other, hockey puck in my pocket. As I trudged through the snow to the other side of the lake where they had an area cleared for skating, I did a mental recap of the day's events. Here I was, mere hours after totaling my first car, my head and neck sore from smacking into the roof of the car, my left knee throbbing from having slammed into the steering column, my neck and shoulder bruised by the seat belt that saved my life, lacing up my skates and going out to play hockey. Hey, Don Cherry! Is that just like a good Canadian kid, or what?

As I skated up and down the ice all alone, I realized I would never keep track of my puck in the darkness, so I put it back in my pocket and just skated. It was invigorating! After a while, I was getting tired, so I decided to skate around the lake the long way back to my brother's house. There were more stars than this city kid had ever seen, and it seemed both they and the moon shone brighter that night. The frosty air was freezing my breath into little icicles on my moustache, and the stillness and grandeur of mother nature made me feel very small. Suddenly, off in the distance across the lake, I heard a low rumbling sound. Could there be bears on the ranch? Yikes, I'd better get out of here fast! I quickened my pace, my head turning left and right as I scanned the ice for some attacking predator. I arrived huffing and puffing back into the safety of my brother's house, and he eventually stopped laughing long enough to tell me the growling I'd heard was just the ice groaning as it shifted.

Here's a much shorter one (but is it a Canadian Christmas?):

My mother's parents were born and raised in Scotland, and she was actually born there too, although they emigrated to Canada when she was still an infant. She grew up in Winnipeg, then West Vancouver, and raised us five kids (two girls, three boys) pretty much by herself after our father died. We did move in with my grandparents when there was just my elder brother and myself, the others getting married off and starting their own families. I guess that's where I learned to be so thrifty (I'm not cheap) -- living with the Scottish.

Before I moved out on my own, I began working at Woodwards. By this time I had exercised a little independence and moved into what I called the basement suite of my grandparents' house. My girlfriend at the time also worked at Woodwards and, one Xmas eve after we finished work, I decided it would be fun (and probably quite romantic) to get a Xmas tree so we could decorate it together. All the tree sellers were closed and long gone to be with their own families, so we had our pick of what they had left behind on their lot. We brought home a really bushy little tree and filled it with every spare light and bauble left over from the main tree upstairs. I set it up in front of the fireplace which I was not using at the time, and I kept it watered faithfully.

Just after New Year's, the local Lions Club had a tree chip-up, but I wasn't ready to part with the little guy just yet. After cleaning up another bunch of needles I decided to get rid of the tree, but what should I do? Would the garbage truck take it? Should I throw into somebody's back yard and run like heck? I decided to burn the Yule log and so I wrapped it in a big tarp to catch all the falling needles and loaded it carefully into my car. I drove to Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver and dragged the little tree out onto the sand propping it up with a couple of rocks. I stuck rolled-up newspaper in amongst its branches, then set the paper on fire and stood back. There was some crackling and a huge plume of smoke rolling off the tree, but very little flame. I was thinking, "Not much of a show" when suddenly the gases in the smoke ignited. WOOF went the tree. I just about fell over, and I got a sudden chill when I realized that tree that had just exploded before my eyes had been inside our house! I quickly ran back to my car and surreptitiously drove away in case somebody had seen the fire and phoned the authorities. Since then, I have always used an artificial Xmas tree.

From Cathy in Korea. Cathy runs her own Web site and has allowed us to republish this piece she sent to her own mailing list and posted on her site. It has been edited slightly to fit into the FactsCanada.ca site -- mostly to correct her very unpatriotic use of American spellings!

A friend wrote to me wondering how Christmas is celebrated in Korea and suggested I fuel my Web site with a holiday theme. Thanks to John, one of the writers, owners and fuddy duddies (his words, not mine) at FactsCanada.ca. If you haven't checked out this Web site, I highly encourage you to do so. Craig, John and Mike have worked very hard to evolve it into a truly Canadian newsletter and site. There's even an article written by yours truly (lucky issue 13)! Check it out! Better yet, subscribe!

OK, so Christmas in Korea is not like Christmas in Calgary. There isn't any snow and there are few lights and decorations. Koreans do not go to nearly the same commercial extent as we do in the Western world. I have only seen Christmas lights on a couple of the more expensive department stores, although the lights are blah because they only use clear bulbs. I saw one Christmas tree in a shop and one in an apartment window -- again only with clear lights. I also saw Colonel Sanders dressed up as Santa outside the KFC in Itaewon.

There are many Christians in Korea, but Christmas isn't very big as most Koreans are Buddhist. As such, Christmas is not celebrated by many people. The Lunar New Year is huge in Korea. It is celebrated at the end of January for three days. They get together with their families, bow to ancestors' graves, the women cook, and the men eat and play games while waited on hand and foot by their wives.

To Koreans, Christmas is just another day. It's times like this that I miss home. Christmas is my favourite time of year and I'm feeling a tad homesick due to the lack of Christmas spirit. I'm a big kid and can't wait to see "Grinch" with my niece in Australia! I'm sure my mother will not miss me running to the tree to shake every gift trying to figure it out.

It doesn't seem remotely like Christmas without colourful lights, Christmas music and decorations. I miss Christmas festivities, the parties, the merriment and, of course, the excuse to eat way too much of all the bad stuff! Of course, Christmas is when Kokanee matters most!

A few days have passed since I originally wrote this update. Since then I have noticed more holiday reminders. In areas like Kangnam (a very ritzy area), some stores have some beautiful Christmas wreaths in their windows. I'm not talking small plastic ones either. These are huge with blue Christmas bulbs and yes, clear lights. One store has one in every window which makes the establishment look very festive. In the Kangnam subway station, there is an underground shopping mall. I actually heard Christmas carols and saw some Christmas cards for sale.

Despite finding a small bit of Christmas spirit, absent are the throngs of last-minute Christmas shoppers, bustling in the streets and malls with more bags than they can carry. Also missing are the Christmas tree sales in every parking lot. I have yet to see any fresh Christmas trees.

By the way, I am a firm believer in real trees, not the phoney, dust-collecting tree to which my parents defected several years ago! I tell my parents that every year as Dad lugs the fake tree up from the basement with the lights still on it. I will take any day the spruce tree that he, Glen and Lorne chopped down years ago from the side of the house with the prickly needles, sap spilling on the carpet and the sticky pinecones. Watching that tree chopping fiasco was like the blind leading the blind! Hmmm, I wonder if Dad has put up the red lights in the hot tub room yet. "Ken's H'oor Haven" is how it is fondly named. Although Dad gets ribbed about his red "h'oor lights", Christmas wouldn't be the same without them. To find Dad, go into the hot tub room. You'll find him rocking in his rocking chair and sipping coffee in the dark with the red lights on.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Copyright © 2000 Cathy Bates. All rights reserved.
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