I wanted to share this story that my mother wrote for the Fort Erie Observer Paper about our Christmas experience!
Here is the link for the website: https://forterieobserver.ca/2018/12/the-christmas-pie/
By Jacqueline C. Anderson
Bill and Minnie Winn, my English grandparents, made many happy memories for me in their little house at Christmastime. I remember the warmth, the music and the atmosphere of exciting family gatherings. It was always so much fun to be able to see all of my cousins at one place.
Individual families spent Christmas Day at home but on Boxing Day, my parents with their five children, together with my mother’s sisters, their husbands and all of my myriad cousins gathered for what we knew as “Grandma’s Christmas Pie”. How it got the name I’ve never learned.I’m nearly 73 now so you realize that things were done very frugally back then. Our ‘needs’ were always met but the ‘wants’ became dreams. Dreams seldom became ‘reality.’
Just walking into Grandma’s house transported us from our daily norm into a magical world. Every corner seemed to be full of pretty, sparkly decorations that were tucked into the most unusual places. The welcome of hugs from the grown-ups and the delightful squeals of children’s laughter greeted us from the minute we got our boots and coats off.
The longest table I’d ever seen was set up in the living room with tablecloths and beautiful centrepieces. Grandma called it the ‘groaning table’ and it was full of all the specialty treats that she’d been preparing for weeks. Her fridge was the back porch where most of the food was stored. My aunts would be constantly running back and forth refilling empty platters.
We all sat down to dinner together (kids at a separate table) and everyone had a Christmas cracker which we pulled at the same time. Tradition demanded that we wear the silly paper crown hats and save the little decoration from the outside of the cracker which Grandma would use to embellish gifts next year.
Once everyone was all accounted for, the main event began. We were finally allowed to peek inside the other room to see a huge refrigerator box that had been decorated so prettily. It was ‘The Christmas Pie.’
Inside the box, and overflowing, was a mountain of gifts that Grandad would be handing out.
Each gift was wrapped in plain tissue paper. The front page of last year’s Christmas cards became the ‘To/From’ and the pretty card added even more interest to each gift. The little bits of holly berries from the year-old Christmas crackers were somehow fitted into the bows. Love was poured into each wrapped gift. Even getting mittens was exciting!
Parents were stationed strategically to gather the bows and ribbons and to fold the wrapping paper which would be used again next year. We were expected to try not to tear it. That also added to the fun.
Years later, I learned that Grandma began making a new pair of hand knitted mittens for every child on the day after the New Year began. Her efforts were a labour of love. I’ve often wondered if anyone ever realized it. Children seldom get excited over mittens.
At the time that Grandma began the mitten project, Grandad went to each of his daughters’ homes and collected all of the outgrown, broken, unused toys, dolls, bikes or roller skates. He took them to his workshop and spent the entire next year refurbishing them to be handed out in the next Christmas Pie … another huge labour of love. Each child got two gifts (that he had resurrected), plus the mittens (from Grandma). We all knew that all gifts were from both of them.
As the years passed, some of the eldest kids started to recognize their former toys and it became part of the fun to see who got what … and how it was changed or painted.
Both of my grandparents knew how to work as a team to make the impossible happen. In life, their profession was to work as a cook and butler for very wealthy families. They used their skills and knowledge to pass along a lifestyle that is separate from the moneyed. They taught whoever would listen, how to make the best of every opportunity.
Grandma played the piano and all the family’s cheerful (often off-key) voices sang familiar carols. I miss the sound of the piano music in our home.
It was such a wonderful time in my life and has coloured the way that I prepare for Christmas.
So if you come to visit, look for the little things. Coloured balls that have lost their hangers are now nestled in a glass vase … that no longer can hold water because of the crack in it … along with sparkly fabric and small ornaments that could not be hung. Sprigs of berries are tucked in places that you might never even notice. Nothing gets thrown away. It gets re-purposed.
It’s become my fun each year, to try to create new memories for my grandchildren.
Merry Christmas everyone!