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A Pioneer Christmas Day

Smoke curled lazily from the chimney of our small farmhome north of Birch River, Manitoba. It was Christmas Day, 1948. Dad had been up since 5 a. m. adding more wood to the heater and lighting the wood cookstove. It was soon warm and we children excitedly joined Mom and Dad around the Christmas tree to open gifts before we went outside to do chores. Our stockings contained peanuts, hard candy and an orange, that we usually ate right away.

Morning chores would have to be done earlier than usual, since we always listened to the Queen’s annual message broadcast on radio. We hurried out, lit lantern in hand, and milked the cows, fed and watered the horses, pigs, chickens and cows.

The aroma of freshly baked buns and pies filled the kitchen as we stepped inside after chores. Milk was separated and the cats and dog were fed. We sat down to a breakfast of ham and eggs, homemade bread and fresh butter. Wild strawberry jam, from berries picked in the summer, was spread on the bread. Since it was a special day we children were allowed a half-cup of coffee with fresh cream and sugar.

It wasn’t long before the turkey was roasting and we had some moments to sit and listen to the Queen’s speech. Later we sang carols along with the guitar, played a new game and admired the rest of the gifts we had received. Helping set the table we eventually were eating a dinner of turkey with all the trimmings. Mom had baked shortbread, butter tarts, fruitcake and fudge days before, but our favourite dessert was the mince pies.

Evening chores involved splitting kindling for the next morning, filling the wood box, carrying in water, emptying the slop pail, cleaning the barn and milking cows and feeding the animals again. The separator was washed again after using and the coal oil lamp was polished, filled and lit. Our supper was delicious leftovers. We did dishes and then settled down for the story of Christ’s birth.

We had no phone, no hydro, no indoor plumbing or running water, no iPods, BlackBerrys, cellphones, TV, computers or video games. Only a battery-operated radio, a warm crackling fire and a coal oil lamp for light. We had enjoyed each other’s company all day whether doing chores or playing. There was an excitement and contentment in our home that day that modern conveniences couldn’t give.

Snuggling down in bed, after hot chocolate, cookies and prayers, we slept soundly. Christmas was over for another year, but the peace and joy of that day will remain in our hearts forever.

– Joanne Rawluk writes from Gypsumville, Manitoba

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