One of my earliest memories concerns the school Christmas Concert. This was a small school in Saskatchewan, only two rooms — one for lower classes and one for upper grades.
For the concert, we made a "stage" by hanging three white (borrowed) sheets. One was the back curtain and two were hung up on the sides of the stage. Then a fourth white sheet was pulled across the stage to effectively hide the performers from the audience.
We were learning the song Silent Night. (In hindsight now, it’s really hard to believe that there really was a time when I did not know that carol). I thought it was a magical song, not realizing what a gift that choir-teacher was giving us by having us learn it. I never forgot that intimate feeling we had when the curtain which shielded and hid us from the parents who had all come to hear us was pulled.
I really don’t know why we girls had our hair in curlers and ringlets during the morning. Ringlets (longer curls that hung down) were made in this way before curling irons were invented: White strips of cloth, wrapped around our wet hair, twisted it into wet curls that were to dry by evening. How we had the courage to wear those rags in school in that half-day, I’ll never know! The afternoon had no classes and we were free to go home and get ready for the big concert at night.
We travelled back to school at night, and also to church for the Christmas Eve Sunday school program a few days later, by sleigh. Then we set out our plates on the kitchen table, hoping they’d be filled with candies, peanuts and an orange by morning. We did not hang up stockings, and we probably had not heard of Santa Claus.
Early next morning we would bound out of bed and check the spots where we had set our plates. We were exceedingly happy if all the things we had seen in the Eaton’s Christmas catalogue had come to our house and were there next to the sweets on our plates.
Boys had been gazing longingly at chemistry sets and the girls had their own vision of what a perfect doll looked like. It was simple and good, not too much at all.
Except once: My father, a farmer, had had a series of crop failures in the thirties, until one year there was a bumper crop. This meant that there was even a surplus of wheat to sell. Finally, there was enough money to satisfy all our Christmas wishes. I remember receiving everything I had hoped for. What an unusual Christmas!
After a series of unhappy times in our family, I began to realize that there are worse things in life than not having enough money.
Another effect of our concerts on the stage made of sheets was that it helped me always to feel at home on the stage of Pantages Playhouse, a stage that had real curtains! I could confidently accompany on the piano (and feel at home doing it) for two weeks’ worth of festival school choirs every spring for 20 years, and never feel like I was in the wrong place.
Christmas must have done that for me.
Bertha Klassen is a community correspondent for Elmwood.