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This is What a Country Christmas Was Like in the 1950s

After the chores were done, family fun, lots of food and good cheer took centre stage.

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Country ChristmasPhoto: Courtesy of Ruth Zelinski

A Country Christmas in Viking, Alberta

Christmas was always a very happy time of year, especially when everyone was around. Our family consisted of Mom and Dad, three girls and three boys. It didn’t matter if it was Christmas or a regular work day; we lived on a farm, so the animals always came first. We never had a tractor, so the horses had to be fed by hand, the cows milked and fed, and the sheep and chickens looked after before we had breakfast. Regardless of what work had to be done (inside the house or outside), no one had a specific job to do, but the older people did the heavier work. When Christmas came around, everyone helped out with baking Christmas cake, mincemeat tarts, shortbread cookies and pies. No pastries were ever purchased from the local store. Also, everyone helped with decorating the tree and rooms around the house.

Since there wasn’t any electricity or natural gas on the farm in the earlier days, coal and wood were the main source of heat. The coal was brought in from the Forestburg Coal Mine every fall, and used in the furnace all winter. Both the kitchen stove and heater used wood for fuel. We had coal oil lamps for the house, barn and yard. One lamp I remember vividly was our mantel lamp, which had a tall glass globe and was much brighter than the regular lamps. Unfortunately, because the mantel would easily get blackened, the wick would have to be turned down. This was the light we chose to do our homework by.

Find out why Christmas is celebrated on December 25.

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Two children getting ready to eat turkey on ChristmasPhoto: Courtesy of Ruth Zelinski

The Magic of Handmade Decorations

Christmas was always a delightful occasion. A spruce tree was purchased in town and kept in the house overnight to thaw out. The base had to be kept in water so the needles would not dry up and fall off the tree. It was decorated with ornaments we made in school and at home. Only a few were purchased, but favourite ones were kept from year to year. There were absolutely no candles on the tree in case of a fire and there weren’t any colourful electric mini-lights because we didn’t have power back then.

When we were younger, we received many beautiful Christmas cards from all of our relatives. Those who lived further away (Ontario and Boston) wrote more than two pages and folded their cards like accordion pleats and stretched them out into a Nativity, Christmas or beautiful winter scene. We stood them up on the branches of the tree, as part of the decorations. The rest of the cards were strung on ribbons and hung wherever there was space. Of course, the star took its place on the very top of the tree.

Mom would always hide the gifts she knitted for us, such as mitts, scarves and toques, under the tree and we always looked forward to the big parcel that came from the Eaton’s Catalogue.

This is why we hang stockings for Christmas.

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Zelinski family dinner in 1956Photo: Courtesy of Ruth Zelinski

After the Chores, the Fun Began…

The school Christmas concert was another festive occasion we always attended. Pupils learned their parts for the Christmas plays, recitals or carolling. When my little brother was just a beginner in school, Dad wrote a recital for him. It went something like this: “Santa Claus is short and stout, so I have been told by Dad, but I have seen him, he’s tall and thin and looks just like my Dad.”

When the concert ended we all received a brown paper bag with an orange and some hard candy in it. We always travelled to school concerts and Sunday school concerts at the church by horse-drawn sleigh. We also had our own foot warmers, which were little metal boxes with a drawer in them that contained hot coals. The metal was covered with rug material so that nothing was burnt, and we had extra blankets as it always seemed colder at night.

On Christmas morning, we were always eager to get the chores done. Once they were out of the way, we’d eat breakfast, so we could open our presents. Since we raised turkeys on the farm, we always had a big turkey for Christmas dinner. After our meal, we’d listen to Christmas carols and messages on our radio. It had a dry-cell battery and was larger than any of today’s radios. There were always new games to be played, along with the old classics. Then, for the rest of the day, we snacked on goodies and treats. I have wonderful memories of those Christmas gatherings on the farm!

Looking for holiday decorating inspiration? Check out how Canadians deck the halls from coast to coast.

Originally Published in Our Canada