Christmas holidays: the perfect time to find another reason – if one is ever needed – to settle into a warm corner on a winter’s night with a book. Perhaps with the wood stove on, the tree lights glinting in the corner and a warm mug at my elbow. I’ve been mulling on “the classic” Canadian Christmas story, and have found myself surprised, and then unsurprised, by the difficulty of locating one.
On December 25, 1943, the acrid smell of cordite hung over the rubble barricades of Ortona, Italy, where Canadians and Germans were engaged in grim hand-to-hand combat. Even amid the thunder of collapsing walls and the blinding dust and smoke darkening the alleys, the men of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and The Loyal Edmonton Regiment were determined to celebrate Christmas. They chose the abandoned church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli as their banquet hall.
The tag line for Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story is: “A Tribute to the Original, Traditional, One Hundred Per Cent, Red-Blooded, Two Fisted, All-American Christmas.” Except that the film isn’t. American that is. It’s a 100-per-cent Canadian production, shot on location in St. Catherines and Lindsay, Ontario, and studios in Toronto.
This is the story behind one of the most popular Yuletide movies that’s right up there with the holiday holy trinity of A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street
The Canadian holidays are a lot like the American holidays, but with a higher chance of snowfall. Plus, Santa’s workshop is totally in the Canadian north, right? I say we call dibs on the guy in red – back off, Coca Cola.
My favourite thing to do around Christmastime is to curl up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and watch Too Many Things. Too Many Things could be that DVD box set that you got from a loved one, or the goodies waiting in your instant qeue on Netflix. Whatever it is, you’ve got to watch it. This holiday season, my must-watch movie spree includes some classic Canadiana. While Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation may be on TV repeat, hunting down the following movies and TV specials will make your holiday season merry, bright, and especially Canadian.
On a wall in my home is a print by David Blackwood. It features a line of humans dressed in various swaths of fabric, masked and guided by lanterns. It is titled, “Mummers Group at Pound Cove”. It is an eerie picture that conjures up images of medieval, Breughelesque, ceremonies. Mummering goes back to medieval times and, according to some scholars, to the back of beyond. No one really knows for sure. What we do know is that mummering, done by mummers, arrived in what is now Canada with the first English and Irish settlers and remains part of the Christmas tradition in at least Newfoundland and Labrador, although a friend from Prince Edward Island tells me it is still happening there, too.
There’s one all-purpose, go-to beverage for the holidays – one that kids can drink, adults can mix with liquor, and both can use later for an upset stomach. It’s not eggnog or hot chocolate, but Canada Dry ginger ale!
The drink was invented in 1904 by Ontario pharmacist and chemist John J. McLaughlin (brother of Robert Samuel McLaughlin, whose McLaughlin Motor Car Company later became General Motors of Canada). McLaughlin’s ginger ale was intentionally formulated as a soda water for mixing with fruit juice and flavoured extracts, but it wasn’t perfect. The colour of the ginger ale was too dark and the taste too sweet for McLaughlin, who wanted it to be on par with “dry” and clear sparkling French champagnes. After some time experimenting in the lab, he found the perfect balance, and Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale, with real ginger, was patented in Toronto in 1907.
Every Christmas I seethe as a litany of bad music washes over me. Some is saccharine sweet romantic twaddle. More is offensive to my religiously atheistic and culturally Jewish sensibility. The odd song is just about bearable. The Huron Carol, however, has earned a special place in my loathing. Perhaps it is the constant revelations about the heinous crimes committed in the residential schools run by the descendents of the Catholic priest who wrote, and whose collaborators disseminated, the song. Perhaps it is the news about lack of water, schools and just about everything else on the reservations. The long and the short of it is that I hate the song and everything it stands for. I hate it all the more because it has taken in some pretty good folks- Tom Jackson and Bruce Cockburn, among others. They should know better and that just makes me madder.