The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 30 no 6, December 2018. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Since 1857, when our great grandparents, Anthony Dean and Bridget McDonnell married, the Dean family has celebrated Christmas on our family farm on “The Burr Road” (today’s ch Sainte-Élisabeth). Our grandparents, Anthony Dean and Bridget Hogan, and our parents, Raymond Dean and Mabel Shea, continued our family Christmases there.
There wasn’t anything particularly Christmas-y at our St. Mary’s School in the 1940s, except for early dismissal time at noon on the last day before holidays. The holidays lasted from then until after Little Christmas on January 6th.
Our Christmas concerts took place in St. Elizabeth’s Parish Hall. Most children in the parish participated, with lots of heartfelt singing and reciting. One year we took turns reciting sayings for each letter of C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S. Another year, young Denis Prud’homme sang a song in French. The church hall stage had steps and a curtain in front and a space along either side with a little washroom/dressing room.
Our Christmas started a couple of days before when our father went to the bush to cut down the tree. We set it up on Christmas Eve. Our mother enjoyed decorating it with some homemade decorations and a few special ones that she bought in town. Then it was nap time to get ready to head out into the cold for the trip to Mass on Christmas Eve.
There were three Masses said in Latin, the first at midnight. We followed along in English in our Mass books. The church was decorated with wreaths and a large nativity scene, complete with hills for the sheep, on the right side of the altar. The church was lit by coal oil lamps hanging from the pillars and a large lamp which was pulled down over the centre aisle.
Once home from church, it was off to bed for a while since we had to be up early to see what Santa had left for us. There were always presents like oranges (a special treat), hard candies and peppermints which our father brought back from town. Mother looked after other gifts such as board games and, one year, a book with cut out dolls and dresses for me, tom-boy Joyce. As the only girl with three brothers (Tony, Brian and Gregory) I played what they played until sisters Margaret and Marilyn were born.
We had Christmas lunch early. For the holiday, our mother made plum pudding, lots of cookies and dark Christmas cake baked in three sizes of square pans. Our father then harnessed the horses, put hay on the sleigh and we set off to Grandma and Grandpa Shea’s (Tom Shea and Mary Theresa Burke). He sat on our car’s rear seat which he had removed when the car was stored for the winter. We sat in the hay with heated bricks and buffalo robes to keep us warm. We sometimes got off the sleigh and ran alongside.
We joined in with our O’Keefe first cousins who lived across from Grandma’s, and our aunts and uncles who were still at home, digging in to the big turkey and all the goodies that Grandma had made.
The bells on the horses’ harness seemed to have an extra special jingle at Christmas time. We are grateful for our many happy Cantley Christmas memories.