“It was the food shops that Merry Christmassed the hardest. In Mr. Saunder’s, the grocer’s, window was a real Santa Clause grinding coffee … In the window all round Santa were bonbons, cluster raisins, nuts and candied fruit, besides long walking-sticks made of peppermint candy.” – Emily Carr
Emily Carr’s memories of Christmas in Victoria in the 1870s captured the typical excitement of children at that time of year. It was the same for me, growing up in southern Ontario in the 1960s.
While the stores of my era were in suburban malls instead of Main Street, and department stores and supermarkets had replaced small grocers and butcher shops, there was still that air of excitement driven by decorations, music, and of course, the special foods.
My father would bring home boxes of chocolates and fruitcakes from the dairy farmers he serviced, picking up their milk with his tank truck. My mother would carefully hoard those goodies and dole them out in small batches so my brother, sister and I didn’t gorge ourselves silly.
Our family of five would arrive at the house of my spinster aunts and bachelor uncle early in the afternoon of Christmas Day. The turkey was roasting in the ‘special occasion’ downstairs kitchen, and in the large rec room a long table was laid for about 20 family members, kids all together closest to the Christmas tree with its piles of gifts, off limits until after our mid-afternoon dinner. There was turkey and all the trimmings, followed by many kinds of Christmas cookies, Sicilian pastries and bowls of nuts to be cracked by the fire.
Many of the people around that table have passed away now, and that tradition is lost. But here on the West Coast, my wife and I host a regular Christmas Eve gathering of friends, which includes the Sicilian tradition of seven courses of fish, boxes of chocolates, and maybe this year, I’ll try my hand at those fig and almond pastries only my Aunt Polly knew how to make. I finally found a recipe.
Don Genova is a Vancouver Island-based award-winning freelance journalist specializing in food and travel. Find him online at dongenova.com.