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When Christmas Comes

Christmas 2020 will be recorded in history books as one of the quietest ever, not because we did not anticipate its coming but because it seemed like nothing was normal. Many of us did no shopping and wrapped no gifts. Others shopped for people they had never given to before and may never give to again. Those who read this column regularly know I began early with practicing Christmas carols for services that might be cancelled out at the last minute by weather, isolation issues or even technical difficulties—that last one more of a concern this year than ever before.

The church and school Christmas programs we normally attended were either not held this year or not announced as available to the general public. Checking local websites, I found two programs available on videos from churches and was told some of the school programs were on Cardinal Vision but not on radio or internet. Many traditional Christmas gatherings were simply not held this year, and all of us understand the health concerns that made that necessary. Some watched “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time reciting the dialogue along with the long ago actors. Several days after Christmas and by popular demand, the CBC ran a favorite Christmas program from Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café featuring Dave and his search for a perfect Christmas tree. This one was not in its “normal” Sunday noon time slot, so even though I was not sleepy after a “normal” routine of past years when I would come home after playing for two church services and hurry to listen to the noon program before fixing lunch, I still fell asleep before Dave got his tree home for a happy ending.

Some of the churches complying to the “no in-person worship” directives of denominational leaders did have Christmas Eve services for small groups. While we have been trained to not hug the people as they came in the door or to visit, some who attended were people we had not seen since last Christmas, and that, in itself, was a joyous occasion. Some we knew were virus survivors – in a sense, miracle survivors of a disease most of us had not heard of a year ago.

For the record of this historical Christmas some families went all out to have the traditional large family meal. Family members arrived from other states bearing gifts and Christmas treats. Relatives in Colorado had been baking for some time, and when their family arrived bringing ski equipment, they took the cookies with them to the slopes. Others had a simple meal and depended on Facetime or Zoom to see their grandchildren open gifts whether they lived far away or simply across town. Phone calls from friends and relatives who, like me, find the annual cards and letters an increasing challenge had a sameness no matter where they happen to live today. That we are able to reach out to others makes us survivors as well as those who have been hospitalized. And, almost without fail, the cards that arrive and the phone calls received offer hope for a happy and healthier new year.

Into this somewhat different atmosphere, Santa still came if not down the chimney then in an anonymous fashion. Before my brother and I were old enough for school, there is a clear memory of a special visit Santa made to our house one Christmas Eve. An aunt and uncle had come to town, possibly driving their new 1938 Buick which would be their family car until after World War II ended, to pick up our family to go to a Christmas program at the Langdon Presbyterian Church. Everyone in the house went to this program, and we all saw my aunt lock the house carefully with her skeleton key before we left.

When we returned home later the door was still locked but proof that Santa had been there was very evident. Just under the window on the west side of the kitchen was a small light green table and two green wooden chairs – just right for small children to sit on. Nearby was a little pink cupboard, and when you opened the door there were the little toy plates and cups I had received for Christmas a year or two earlier. It is possible that Rodney’s first Lincoln Logs were under the Christmas tree as well. Those gifts are still in existence claimed by younger family members who enjoyed them after we grew up, and I am told refurbished them for their own grandchildren.

After ten months of no real shopping and trying to avoid crowds, I did not expect Santa to have my name on any of his lists and was prepared to celebrate very quietly. Then, believe it or not, friends began to mention Santa gifts, large and small. At my house a gift signed Santa was a beautiful pink rose which is still decorating my kitchen a week later. It must have been a good year for the beehives in Cavalier County because several have mentioned jars of honey showing up in unusual places. It was also a great year for cookie bakers and long distance phone calls from very distant places. Each one is a pleasant surprise.

Christmas always brings books, and one from the library that I read over the holiday is a new one by M. C. Beaton. Marian Chesney Beaton began a long career writing mysteries with her Hamish MacBeth series set in the highlands of Scotland. Counting books that might be in the library basement there could be more than 30 starring the red-haired Scottish policeman. Then she decided to add an off-beat female detective to her repertoire and along came Agatha Raisin whose list of titles is equally long. The book titles alone are good for a few chuckles so you might be forewarned that the stories will have twists and turns. The Agatha books are now a current TV series. Beaton died a year ago after an illness of some time, and the man who may have thought he would be her researcher or secretary finished her recent book. An earlier book co-stared a donkey; this one has horses and a few other surprises. Agatha’s previous adventures were in England. In this book she gets to cross the channel.

Canadian readers have announced the “best books of 2020” and claim a murder in Quebec may be the one to read this winter. The author wanted it to be like Agatha Christie’s Poirot but wanted the detective to “be nicer”. So far, I have not found the title or author, just reviews on setting a book in Quebec which Canadians think “is about time”.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year; stay safe and healthy, and there might be some classic basketball or hockey games on the horizon.


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