December 2002
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Traditional Christmas In John's Pond, Newfoundland
By Jennifer Hearn, St. Catherine's Academy, Mount Carmel, NL

Christmas in the 1930's and 40's was a lot different than the Christmas we celebrate today. Back then there were no department stores like Sears, Wal-Mart or Canadian Tire to go buy your gifts from. There was no electricity, so you couldn't decorate your house or Christmas Tree with lights and there were not many people that had turkey with Christmas dinner. I sat down with my grandmother and she explained to me exactly what her Christmases were like.

From December 26th to old Christmas Day ( January 6th), these 12 days were known as the twelve days of Christmas. During this time in my grandmother's community of John's Pond, Newfoundland, which is now an outport community, there was always someone at your house visiting until old Christmas Day. Today not many people go by the twelve days of Christmas. During the Christmas season at my home visiting starts on Christmas Eve, usually people will be at our house Christmas Eve and then we'll go to their homes the following night.

Around the 20th of December the Christmas tree would be put up and decorated. In the 1930's and 40's there were no stores to buy nice decorations with so my grandmother and her family would blow the yolk out of eggs and paint the shells so they could hang them on the tree and they would take yarn to wrap around it. "If you were lucky you would get ribbon to decorate the tree with." my grandmother said. "A lot of people didn't even have a Christmas tree, but our family always did."

What would you do if a man showed up at your house during any time of the night dressed as an old lady? Well, this is what my grandmother said people used to do. If someone came to your house during Christmas dressed foolish, you knew they were mummers. Men would come dressed as women and women would come dressed as men, just like it says in "The Mummers' Song." People would also come dressed in coveralls with stockings hauled down over their heads. "Mummering was a big Christmas tradition back then." Nan said. "There was a lot more mummering on the go when I was growing up compared to today. You might get a scatter person come knocking on your door today."

Christmas mass was always held on Christmas Eve and it was known as Midnight Mass. My grandmother and her family would dress up really warm and a horse and sleigh would bring them to mass in Mount Carmel. Today it is a 15 minute drive from John's Pond to Mount Carmel. Nan said "We would have to leave our home on horse and sleigh at 10:00 pm in order to get to mass on time which was 12:00. In the end the long cold ride was worth it because when church was over and we were on our way home, we all knew that Santa was on his way."

At around 7:00, Christmas morning everyone in my grandmother's family would get up and run to the Christmas tree to see what presents they got. Back then for Christmas you would get an apple or orange and this was a great present because these fruits were so rare that if you got one for Christmas you felt so lucky. Also some people would get vamps (woolen socks) that were knitted. My grandmother had said, "It wasn't until I was 9 or 10 before I ever got a doll, and I think that was the best I ever got, I felt so proud when I received it."

Christmas dinner was different than ours today. We still have all the vegetables today like my grandmother had, but we have turkey as our meat whereas they never. People would kill a lamb or cow early in the month and hang it to freeze, so it would be ready to eat for Christmas. After dinner, there was dessert and this consisted of a Christmas cake which was not a fruit cake, but a cake made from molasses and raisins and a glass of beer for the adults. Now this was not just ordinary beer, my grandmother told me that, "The beer was made from a spruce tree. You would get pieces of the tree and boil it to make beer."

The traditions of Christmas have definitely changed from the 1940's to the present day. What we eat for Christmas, what presents we get for Christmas and even how we get to church today has changed a lot since my grandmother was a child. I personally can't picture myself living back then, but my grandmother still says to this day, "My younger years was the best time of my life and I wouldn't change that for anything."


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