I had a different Christmas this year. Usually my tradition is to have Christmas Eve supper with my kids where we have Tourtière or Pâté à la viande, a French Canadian finely diced beef or pork pie in a flaky crust, along with dill pickles or gherkins and a bottle of red wine. I’d previously purchased a bottle of Penfold’s Bin 128 Shiraz, a pricy but good Australian wine, for the evening. The aficionados’ say “it’s a full bodied, nicely aromatic, fruity wine. On the nose, it is dominated by wild strawberries, raspberry and oak, whereas the palate shows some coconut and some more strawberry. Tannins are refined (decant for 15 to 30 min) and the finish is long with some heat.” We would also roast Italian chestnuts on the fireplace and drink a mug of warm rum eggnog with nutmeg. Unfortunately, I decided instead this year to drive up to Fergus in order to take my 93 year old mother who is in a nursing home with dementia after having a stroke last May to a Christmas Eve service at the local Episcopal church and wouldn’t get back to my children’s place until late because of the three hours of driving down dark country back roads. The town of Fergus in the county of Wellington, Ontario bills itself as Scotland without the airfare and the resident board at the nursing home reads like the gathering of the clans. My mother’s grandmother was a Ferguson and we have two pipers – an uncle and a cousin – in the extended family so she really fits.
Picked up my mother at the nursing home just after six pm on Christmas Eve, put her in her favorite winter coat and pushed her in a wheelchair with a shawl covering her knees down the sidewalks taking the long way to the church so that she could look at the impressive Christmas light displays on the old limestone Victorian homes in this original part of Fergus on the way. The church, St. James the Apostle, is a traditional Episcopal type that sits on the side of the Grand River gorge that cuts through the middle of Fergus and was built in 1895. Fortunately its handicap accessible so I had no problem getting my mother into the church sanctuary via a small elevator with a bit of help from the parish sides persons and wheeled her up to the side of the front pew where the handicap section is located. Not my usual choice which is a pew closer to the back and being a stranger in the parish was even more noticed. Sang the traditional Christmas carols, Little Town of Bethlehem etc., during the service and listened to the children’s talk in front of the modest size crèche scene across from where we were sitting. When I was in the Anglican church at Aurora, we had a life size outdoor crèche with full size statues for Christmas which were kept in the darkly lit basement of the rectory and the first time that I went down to the cellar I saw these figures lurking in the shadows and almost had a heart attack from my surprise as did the furnace repair man on his first trip. I went up to the altar rail for the communion and noticed that the kneeler was a local handmade creation with a native North American pattern in blue. This reminded me of a previous experience at my current parish in Scarborough, Ontario. Strange flashbacks you have at the rail. The morning was Earth Sunday at my local church that‘s on top of the 300 foot high Scarborough Bluffs that overlook Lake Ontario just east of Toronto. We sang “All things bright and beautiful.” The sermon was about our stewardship of God’s dominion. The rector spoke about St. Paul’s quote “all of creation groaning for our redemption.” (Romans 8:22) At synod in 2009, the Archbishop proclaimed April 18th in that year as Earth Sunday, two weeks after the celebration of the Resurrection, still in the season of Easter. On the heels of proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and our salvation we also seek ways to proclaim, as part of an even greater narrative of redemption, the salvation of God’s world. When I went up to receive communion, I noticed that the label on the altar’s kneeler said “made in China” and “100% foam rubber”. Canonically speaking, the proper filler for a kneeler is the hair from a virgin, white mare. Now I realize that the probability of any sort of virgin mare running around China is low but couldn’t they have some labelling system like certified organic. I prefer to contemplate the eternal and reducing my carbon footprint knelling on the product of His bounty rather than chemically modified petroleum by-products.
Anyway, that was my Christmas Eve and I think that my mother enjoyed herself. It’s been a mild winter so far with no snow but the first snow of the season came on the night so I woke to a white Christmas. The first real snow storm was on Boxing Day with a foot of snow to shovel.
Christmas Day, after I had stayed overnight at my kid’s place we had our stockings to open when we had our traditional breakfast – fresh orange juice, cappuccino (I bought them one of those Tassimo coffee makers last Christmas), and homemade cinnamon buns and cranberry scones with lashings of Devon cream. We also had brie cheese with fig compote. I discovered in my stocking nougats, sandalwood vanilla soap bar, chocolate sardines (from France where they have interesting imaginations), ice wine glazed smoked salmon from British Columbia, and a jar of gooseberry jam. My kids have more Christmas decorations than will fit on one tree so they bought a second smaller tree and put it upstairs while the main one with the gifts is in the basement. Living in the small country hamlet of Bond Head (population 500) during their youth, we would go in the woods with one of the local farmers, his team of horses and wagon, find a thirty foot high evergreen tree, cut it down with a chainsaw, remove the top ten feet and drag it back to the house over the snow using the horses. Later in the morning after my 23 year old son woke up from his slumber in the baseman man cave which he inhabits and plays Warcraft on his state of the art computer rig with a 42 inch monitor while ingesting junk food and red bull for his online gaming bouts, we opened our presents while having my first daughter (my oldest daughter by 11 minutes and perpetual student i.e. appears to be ten years of post secondary education so far) and her Appalachian boyfriend in Vancouver virtually present using Skype on one of my younger daughters’ portable computers. Vancouver is four hours earlier than Toronto so eleven o’clock out time was seven o’clock their time. I got a movie card, 1 terabyte back up hard drive for my computer, a Fossil brand wristwatch with very large hands (I have presbyopia = “old people’s eyes”), socks and a Phillips electric shaver to replace my broken one. We also have a tradition of “tree gifts” where we open small presents stuck in the tree at the end of the day so there’s still something to anticipate. Traditional dinner with turkey, stuffing, carrots glazed with brown sugar, sprouts, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce with, of course, red wine. Cranberry plum pudding with a vanilla – lemon sauce for desert and a small glass of Niagara region ice wine. We used to have a Cross and Blackwell’s plum pudding (the best) from England but now buy a cranberry pudding at the Bala cranberry festival in Northern Ontario along with fresh berries for the dinner from the Bala cranberry marsh on the local Indian reserve. Left for home on Boxing Day morning before the snow storm was due to hit.