We stood on the side walk, feet slipping in our boots for the Sobeys bags that wrapped our feet in an extra layer of warmth and warded off any potential leaks. “Girls, stamp your feet,” she told us. “You won’t be so cold if you move around.” We were impatient standing in the cold dark waiting for the parade to start. “Girls, stay back,” she warned through her teeth as the transports with their brilliant lights passed by. The cadet bands paused in front of us waiting for the procession to keep moving. “Ok girls, let’s go,” she commanded as we rushed to the car to beat the traffic. She has always referred to us this way, “girls”, irrevocably inseparable in her mind. While we are two individuals, we are merely two halves of a whole.
At home the plywood Santa my father cut out and my mother painted was spotlighted climbing our chimney. Inside the Santa and Mrs. Claus ornament with a sprig of mistletoe hung at the top of the entry way door frame. The living room ceiling had paper streamers twisted in celebratory perfection from each corner to the centre where a paper fold out ornament hung. Most years, our Christmas trees were adventures in our backyard, our choices often disappointing once the snow had melted off of them.
Christmas Eve was snuggling into bed with my sister. Even when our belief faded, we listened to the hurried footsteps in the living room trying to perfect everything. My sister would wake up in the middle of the night, shake me, put her face in mine, and sing until I agreed to “sneak” out to get our stockings. At three in the morning we’d unwrap them, eat the chocolate, fall into a sugar coma and wake again at five am when my mother’s excitement got to her and we’d hear her put on the kettle.
Christmas was never over the top for us. It couldn’t be. Our parents would have given us everything our little hearts desired had it been possible. My mother is prepared to buy my kids anything they remotely show interest in if I allow her. She still has the same pained look on her face that I remember as a child when I wanted something and she knew she couldn’t buy it. A look that believes they are missing out on something. What she doesn’t know is that in the grand scheme of it all, there are only two Christmas presents that I distinctly remember receiving as a child, that’s it.
The rest is memories of my grandfather’s overheated house on Christmas Eve and our blended families. Six am trips to my grandmother’s house on Christmas morning to watch her open gifts she had already guessed the content of. It is the over consumption of shortbread cookies with a dollop of frosting and quartered maraschino cherries on top, and sweet Christmas lights that adorned trees and houses and lit up the dark December days. It is whispering and giggling with my sister, the magic our imaginations made.
It was never a lot and my God, it was oh so much.